By PETER MILOBAR
MLA, Kamloops-North Thompson
IT’S BEEN an undeniably difficult 18 months for every British Columbian, but it’s not hard to see that frontline workers, particularly those who work in health care, have faced an additional set of challenges.
Working daily to look after people’s health is stressful at the best of times, but add to that a global pandemic with increased risk, overwhelmed emergency rooms and ICUs and long overtime hours, and it’s no wonder we are seeing burnout and staffing shortages on a wide scale.
We’ve been gradually noticing this problem over the past few years, but it’s reached a critical point during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses and other healthcare workers are working 24-hour shifts, having their vacations cancelled, being harassed by protesters and dealing with the harsh realities of a global pandemic up close.
These conditions are leading to widespread burnout and staffing shortages around the province. It’s a feedback loop as conditions lead to exhaustion and resignations that in turn lead to even lower staffing levels and higher levels of burnout. We’re watching this unfold in every corner of the province, but particularly in smaller hospitals and health centres.
Here in Kamloops, we just witnessed the heartbreaking story of a woman who passed away in the waiting room of Royal Inland Hospital after waiting six hours for treatment. This after reports from last month that roughly two-thirds of emergency room nurses at Royal Inland have left their jobs recently due to stress.
Just last month, the emergency department of Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater was forced to close every night for nearly a week because of staffing shortages, directing patients to Royal Inland instead. During the heat dome at the end of June, one site reported being down half their workforce.
Unfortunately, stories like this are becoming all too common, and we have yet to see any clear plan from government about how they plan on addressing the obvious needs and gaps in the system. Minister of Health Adrian Dix was asked about this very issue on Tuesday, and he acknowledged his government’s failures saying, “We did neglect this area for quite a long time, gave priority to other areas of training and we have some challenges.”
It’s all well and good for the minister to admit he has neglected the issue, but what is he going to do to correct this neglect and provide immediate relief to healthcare workers pushed to the brink? Not very much, it turns out. His solutions are years down the road, saying, “We’ve got to get through in the meantime.”
But what does getting through look like? We really don’t know, because the NDP has not provided a clear picture of the current conditions. How many nursing positions are currently vacant? How many nurses have left Royal Inland Hospital? What strategy is in place to recruit and retain nurses and other health professionals right now, not just in the long term? What is the plan to fill gaps in seniors care facilities left by unvaccinated staff?
These are questions that British Columbians need answers to — a level of transparency about the challenges facing our health care system that we are not seeing from this government.
We can all agree that ensuring the health of British Columbians is essential — it’s why we all made so many sacrifices in the past year-and-a-half. But we will not have a healthy province if we cannot keep our hospitals and care centres properly staffed and it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure that doesn’t become our reality.
Peter Milobar is the MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson.