“Extremely anxious” and “burnt out” nurses are pleading with the public to do their part as hospitalizations related to COVID-19 climb across the province amid the second wave.
“Nurses are not robots, they’re not machines, they’re human beings that need to rest and recover in order to safely provide care,” said Christine Sorensen, president of the BC Nurses’ Union.
An increasing number of nurses have either contracted the virus or have to self-isolate due to COVID, she noted, “which is only pulling more nurses out of the health care system leaving more work for fewer nurses.”
“We are committed to providing the best quality care we can, and delivering patient care that is needed but there are too few of us. Nurses are getting sick - whether that’s becoming physically ill or getting psychologically impacted by this pandemic,” she said.
“I do know this weekend in Surrey Memorial Hospital, they are desperately pre-booking shifts, they are putting out call after call for nurses to go in and support their colleagues and these are nurses who have been working extended shifts already, and who are desperately needing those days of break in between their shifts to recover.”
As of Thursday, Nov. 19 there were 217 individuals hospitalized related to COVID-19 in B.C., with 59 of those in intensive care, as the province’s active case count hit 6,929.
Sorensen urged the public to abide by public health restrictions and to stay home if sick, to ease pressure on the health care system before it hits a breaking point.
“We will get to a place where we do not have enough ICU beds, or hospital beds in general, and physicians will need to prioritize the most vulnerable patients and the most likely to recover from COVID for ICU beds. That’s a really difficult position for health care staff to be in. That is the moral distress that they face. It is a reality of the health care system when it’s under severe distress,” said Sorensen.
“We need everyone in the public to help us so we are not put in those positions of having to make those difficult choices or place ourselves or our colleagues or other patients at risk.”
While Fraser Health says Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit isn’t full, Sorensen said the union had “heard from nurses that the Surrey ICU is at capacity” and “really can’t manage an additional influx of patients.”
“The emergency room (at Surrey Memorial Hospital) is also seeing an influx in the number of patients coming in with COVID who are not only needing to be treated in the emergency room but be admitted to hospital or into the ICU,” Sorensen said. “It is a designated site to care for some of the most complex patients related to COVID in the Fraser Health region.”
In an emailed statement, Fraser Health told the Now-Leader the ICU in Surrey “continues to have capacity for patients who need that level of care” and “less than half of the patients in the intensive care unit are there for health reasons related to COVID-19.”
The health authority would not say how many beds the Surrey Memorial Hospital’s ICU has, how many are occupied or how many cases are COVID-related.
When the Now-Leader asked for that information, Fraser Health replied in an email with: “We don’t provide that level of data.”
Fraser Health says it is “managing our hospital capacity at this time and have the ability to increase our capacity as needed.”
The health authority adds that it has “found new ways to support patients throughout the region so that they have options to access care for non-emergency health concerns. In the community, Fraser Health has opened five urgent and primary care centres to provide better access to same-day urgent and primary care. In September, we launched Fraser Health Virtual Care which provides a gateway to phone and video conference-based health services, helping people find the right service in a timely manner from the comfort of their own home by calling 1-800-314-0999.”
Capacity and resources aside, Sorensen said nurses across the province are already “burning out.”
“They are exhausted and they see no end in sight.”
Sorensen says roughly 80 per cent of nurses report being concerned about contracting the virus, and she decried inadequate staffing levels and a “lack of unfettered access to personal protective equipment.”