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Mandatory vaccines for nurses making hospitals even more unsafe: union

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A decades-long shortage of trained nurses in B.C. is going to be made worse if hundreds, even thousands, of nurses have to stop work because they’re not vaccinated against COVID.

Aman Grewa, vice-president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union told that the province has failed to fund enough nursing positions in colleges and universities so hospitals are already running short.

There are plenty of examples of single nurses having to look after eight to 12 patients instead of the normal four.

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“Let’s say, in an ICU, where you’ve got a critically ill patient and, normally, it is one nurse to one patient,” she said. “That’s a patient that’s on a ventilator and all sorts of medications and now they are having two, sometimes three patients? I would say that is unsafe.”

This chronic shortage could get much worse on Oct. 26, which is the deadline set by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for most health care workers to be fully vaccinated.

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If they fail to comply with what will, by then, be a condition of employment, they will be put on unpaid leave, Dr. Henry said.

Grewa argued that unvaccinated nurses can, for example, be reassigned to do contact tracing or be put into settings where enhanced personal protective equipment or rapid testing could be used to keep them working.

“There are lots of positions that are non-clinical and they can still be supporting the health care system,” she said. “Why are we losing a nurse when we are so short?”

The B.C. Nurses’ Union has 48,000 members and estimates given by Health Minister Adrian Dix are that 80 to 90 per cent are vaccinated.

That means, if the vaccination rate doesn’t change by Oct. 26, 4,800 to 9,600 of the union’s members may be put on paid leave.

The union doesn’t know how many of its members are vaccinated, nor does Dix have that data yet.

While the union encourages everyone to get vaccinated, its job is to defend its members so grievances will be filed if workers lose their jobs, Grewa said.

“With our collective agreement, they are still entitled to employment,” she said. “Nowhere does it say, if you don’t take a vaccination, you’re terminated.”

As it is, the province will need another 24,000 nurses by 2029 to keep up with retirements, attrition and a growing health care system, Grewa said. Since it takes four years to train a nurse, that doesn’t leave much time to increase the supply.

She’s heard there’s as much as an eight-year waiting list to get into some nursing programs so some who want to be nurses are opting for other careers.

But, for now, Grewa really can’t say what will happen by Oct. 26 in terms of redeployment versus unpaid leave because the government hasn’t yet had detailed discussions with the union.

“We’re waiting to find out what the government’s plan is,” she said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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