September Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
There’s an urgent need to upgrade the way health care is being delivered—and not to patients. Nurses are now more likely than law enforcement to have a violent injury claim—and, according to the BC Nurses Union, violent incidents are being under-reported by as much as 70%. In an attempt to raise public awareness and support, the BCNU recently released a series of videos so shocking and graphic it makes me wonder how many nurses have post-traumatic stress disorder. (“Violence. Not Part of the Job” on YouTube)
Some hospitals, especially rural ones, have no security guard on staff so entrance doors have to be locked after hours. People who go to the Emergency Room must ring the nighttime doorbell and the nurse on duty decides whether or not to let the person in—or call the RCMP to attend first.
That decision is complicated by the severity of the person’s injury: if someone is bleeding heavily, for example, the nurse’s instinct to protect life can override her instinct to protect herself. And on the night shift in a small hospital when only two nurses are on duty, if the nurse lets the person in and then finds herself in danger, the other nurse can be in a different area and way out of earshot.
There’s been so much shame and silence around mental illness in our society that there are gaps in our collective knowledge and awareness. I don’t like to talk about the mental illness in my family, but my elderly mother is mentally ill and now living in long-term care. Despite being medicated, she can have sudden violent outbursts if she gets frustrated or triggered. And she is still physically strong so I sure feel for the nurses who care for her. Yet they do their job with such steely, cheerful professionalism—not to mention kindness and compassion. Maybe their professionalism is another reason why we don’t realize just how risky a nurse’s job can be.
When you ponder what needs to change, some questions arise. How it is that WorkSafe BC has policies which protect workers from violence in the workplace and yet hospitals can sometimes be so dangerous? What’s the hold-up to upgrading safety? Shouldn’t there be a security guard on duty during the night shift? Shouldn’t it become standard practice that nurses work in pairs? And what about providing nurses with alert communication devices they wear on their uniform (such as Vocera) which instantly calls for help if the nurse finds herself in danger?
If the healthcare industry was adequately funded by the federal and provincial governments there would be more money to invest in safety measures. It’s time to let our elected representatives know that we stand with nurses and want a better job done to protect them from violence.
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Provincial Liberal MLA Jackie Tegart’s phone number is (250) 453-9726. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Liberal MP Jati Sidhu’s phone number is (604) 814-5710. His email address is Jati.Sidhu@parl.gc.ca