A lack of staffing resulting in substandard care for patients in B.C. hospitals prompted dozens of nurses to take to Lions Gate Bridge Thursday afternoon.
The nurses handed brochures to drivers and carried placards calling for the provincial government to make good on last year's deal to add 2,100 nurses to B.C. hospitals by 2016.
"We made a lot of significant gains in our contract in October. None of them have been implemented," said Kath-Ann Terrett, chairwoman of the Coastal Mountain region of the B.C. Nurses Union. "We haven't got any new hires."
Staff will be added over the next few years, according to Ryan Jabs, a communications officer with the B.C. Ministry of Health. "We just reached it (the new agreement) two or three months ago, so it'll be implemented over time," he said.
At Lions Gate Hospital, which Terrett said was about average for the province, the nurse shortage is quickly evident. "If you look at the seventh floor at Lions Gate Hospital, they have code white, which is an aggressive patient, three to four times a day," she said. "We have patients in patient lounges, in physio rooms."
A few decades ago, a patient getting his appendix out might have recovered in the hospital for a week. Now, he would be discharged within 24 hours, according to Terrett. Because patients tend to be discharged earlier, hospital stays are both shorter and more critical, requiring nurses to function in triage-like conditions, according to Terrett.
Recording each patient's history and condition is frequently done under duress, she said.
"I have nurses going home in tears because they can't provide excellent care. They rush through their charting instead of doing precise charting. That's usually a time when you reflect and think about the care you've given. It's what we call just cover-your-ass charting right now.'"
Other grievances include a failure to replace nurses who call in sick and a lack of opportunities for young nurses.
"I resent having to pay (for) overtime when . . . we have 300 nursing students who haven't got jobs," she said.
Adding 2,100 nurses is a way to give patients adequate care, rather than excellent care,
according to Terrett, who said scrambling between departments has reduced the level of expertise that many nurses acquired from years working with similar patients.
"How can you consolidate your skills if you're going from floor to floor to floor?" Terrett asked. "If you don't suction a tracheostomy for five years, you don't feel very comfortable trying to do it again."
The haste necessitated by those working conditions has resulted in a failure to always take proper precautions, including sterilizing a work area.
"People are so rushed that they are unable to give the care to prevent those kind of infections," Terrett said, discussing the spread of the Norwalk virus.
Despite her objections to the staffing levels at B.C. hospitals, Terrett said she loves her work.
"There's no better job on God's earth," she said. The nurses union chairwoman said she's hopeful hospital staffing will become an election issue.
"It's just to remind the public there's an election coming," she said of the protest. "We want the government to keep their promise that public healthcare is a priority."