Slogans do not fix health care challenges

This editorial appeared in the March 22, 2017 edition of the Interior News. You can read or download the original here

When the Christy Clark government announced just after the last election four years ago their intention to create a “violence- free B.C.” they should have added, “unless you’re a nurse.”

In the case of nurses in B.C., violence in the workplace is a current and growing reality. The latest WorksafeBC annual report reveals attacks on nurses accounted for an incredible 31 per cent of all injuries resulting from acts of violence in the workplace.

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) points out that an average of 26 nurses a month suffer a violent injury at work — almost one a day. The BCNU highlights some needed safety improvements such as properly trained, 24/7 security workers at health care facilities and enhanced education around violence in the workplace. And across B.C., the working conditions frontline nurses face certainly can lead to a buildup of frustration — and sometimes violence — from those they are attending to.

My colleagues recently highlighted in Question Period the overcrowded conditions at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency room due to staff shortages. This was following separate, high-profile incidents where a three-year-old girl and a 56-year-old health care worker died after being sent home from that ER. In visiting the hospital afterwards, the head of the BCNU said she saw patients “stacked up” in the ambulance bay, psychiatric patients being held in chairs designed for seniors, and nurses working 16-hour shifts. In an ER that needs 88 nurses, only 56 are on staff.

Under these conditions province-wide, overstretched nurses working in overcrowded conditions are more susceptible to acts of violence. Our hospitals are not immune from these conditions. For example, constituents tell me the closure of the walk-in doctors clinic in Smithers has resulted in an increase of visits to the Bulkley Valley District Hospital’s ER as those without a family doctor (GP) seek help, meaning longer waits and overstretched nursing staff.

Reminds me of that other unfulfilled slogan from the Christy Clark government: “A GP for Me,” guaranteeing everyone in B.C. a family doctor. Another constituent said he and his family are 200th on a waitlist in Smithers for a GP.

Slogans alone will not address our health care challenges. Following through on promises will go a long way to help address unacceptable situations like the violence nurses face in their workplaces.

- Doug Donaldson is the MLA for Stikine and the Official Opposition spokesperson for Mines.