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BC Nursing Crisis - Five Years Later

BC Nursing Crisis - Five Years Later

March 15th, 2011  · stk

Five years ago, we wrote about the nursing crisis that British Columbia anticipated. How did British Columbia respond? How is socialized Health Care working out for residents of British Columbia now? Find out in our "BC Nursing Crisis" update ...

BC Government Cuts Health Care Despite Shortages & Overcrowding

Back in 2005, when Rachel had just over a year to complete her BSN degree, we wrote about the BC nursing crisis facing the Canadian Province of British Columbia. This bode well for job placement and when Rachel graduated from the UofA in 2006, many of the BC Health Authorities were hiring nursing graduates. (She accepted an offer from VIHA and has been gainfully employed there since).

Fast-forward to 2011 and the latest issue of "BCNU Update" (a BC Nurses' Union publication) describes a very different experience for those now graduating with a BSN degree. Despite an acknowledged and continued shortage of nurses, BC Health Authorities are facing government cut-backs and many recent nursing graduates are finding it difficult to find full-time nursing jobs. In an effort to make ends meet, many newly educated nurses are having to accept work outside of health care - namely in the service-sector - serving coffee Tim Horton's doughnut shops or selling paperback books at Chapters. Sadly, it's their only employment option.

State of Public Health Care in British Columbia

Let's make no bones about it, British Columbia anticipated a nursing shortage in 2005 and that shortage came to pass. This nursing crisis is far from over. There remains a shortage of nurses across the Province of British Columbia (about 6% shy of adequate, missing 2,000 nurses out of a current workforce of 32,000). The only thing that has changed is how the Province is dealing with health care - in general - and the nursing shortage - specifically.

Two years ago, both the BC government and the health authorities agreed there was a serious shortage of nurses - by nearly 2,000 nurses across the entire Province. To meet this need, the Liberal government invested heavily in increasing the number of new nursing education seats (something which they boasted about publicly). They also teamed up with the Nurses' Union and BCIT to create a compressed 3-year BSN program - to push new registered nurses through school and into the workforce more quickly.

All this changed when the British Columbia government responded to the worldwide economic downturn. The downturn turned years of healthy budget surpluses into record deficits. During the 2009 Provincial election, the Premier said the deficit would not be more than '$495 million maximum'. (Once elected, he revised that amount to a record $2.7 billion ... over a five-fold increase).

In response, the government began cost-cutting to reduce the deficit. Health care, nursing and patient care have all been impacted. Health Authorities had to deal with restricted budgets. The latest Provincial health care budget restricts spending to levels that are "far below what's needed to keep up with inflation and population growth," says the BCNU.

The result has been a bevy of cuts to patient services, nursing positions, and anything the Health Authorities or Health Minister names "non-core services" (like day-care centers for house-bound seniors, respite for family caregivers, nurse practitioners managing chronic illnesses ... all of which - ironically - help keep people out of the hospitals).

"More than 600 nursing positions have been cut since March 2009," the BCNU reports. For nurses that have retained their positions, the cutbacks have increased their workload. "75 percent of Union members report workload is 'a problem', with 27 percent calling it a 'major problem'. Some 74 percent said their patient load is 'unreasonable', with 28 percent calling it 'very unreasonable'."

Cutbacks have strained already overcrowded hospitals and treating people in hallways is now regarded "normal". (Several emergency room patients were moved inside a Tim Hortons coffee shop at a Vancouver hospital, last week, which was broadcast by the news media as being evidence of a systemic Health Care problem).

The future looks grim. In the face of an economic downturn, the Province isn't allocating the necessary funds to expand facilities or staff. Graduating nurses face a tight employment market, despite the shortage of nurses. Experienced nurses are being laid-off, facing more workloads or have to accept reduced hours. Ultimately, patient care is suffering, which can lead to all kinds of problems, including longer hospital stays, infections and/or unnecessary death.

All of this comes in the face of an aging population (dubbed the "Grey Tsunami") and doesn't bode well for the future of Health Care in British Columbia.

Source: BCNU "Update" magazine article Job Insecurity: RN Displacements Hurt Nurses and Our Patients (Online PDF Article)

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Updated: 28-Apr-2011
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