High stress, feelings of burnout and an increased workload are just some of the current working conditions nurses at Kelowna General Hospital are experiencing.
“It’s a bit of a dire condition at Kelowna General right now,” said Candi DeSousa, the British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU) regional council member for the Okanagan-Similkameen region.
“The number one thing for people to hear from health care staff is just the fact that it’s hard work. It’s hard work and it’s subject to a lot of criticism.”
On top of helping those impacted by wildfires and heatwaves over the last few weeks, DeSousa said that the hospital has seen an influx of local COVID-19 patients, despite dealing with a shortage in its nursing staff.
“COVID takes up a fair chunk of beds. We have patients who are either needing to go to the intensive care unit (ICU) or coming out of the operating room (OR) needing ICU and there’s no room,” she said. “They’re heading out to our units, which aren’t necessarily set up to support them.”
Nurses constantly find themselves working overtime, which DeSousa said is exacerbating feelings of burnout and exhaustion.
“Both have physical and physiological impacts on our nurses. Last week, we had a nurse in one of the units caring for double the patient load,” she said.
The stress on nurses, she said, has ramifications on patients, specifically in terms of their safety and the quality of care that they receive.
“The working conditions, with the volume of the patients and the decrease of the available staff, it just makes people very vulnerable,” she said. “Just coming from a very supportive position is super important.”
She gave kudos to Interior Health for cancelling or postponing surgeries at the hospital, as the surge of COVID-19 patients has led to mounting pressure on the hospital system.
“When they have multiple surgeries throughout the day that are elective and end up on the units that are having to stay for whatever reason, then you get congestion downstairs in the emergency room,” she said.
“You get patients admitted through the emergency that doesn’t actually get to go upstairs because you’ve got patients coming out of the OR that are taking up those spaces.”
In terms of how she sees the remainder of the year playing out, she said that she’s not overtly encouraged that anything significant will change for nurses in the next six months.
“I see it just as tough as it once was for the nurses,” she said.
How can the public ease the strain on nurses? “Support,” she said.
“Public needs to really, really inform themselves around what’s truly happening in our healthcare sites,” she said. “Just realize that health workers are a limited resource. We’re not putting out enough. We’re not recruiting enough. We’re not retaining enough, so we have to treat them kindly.”