Community Nurses Need Support – STAT!
“We will ensure that we have the necessary staff in place for this tourist season.”
Yukon’s Health & Social Services Minister Pauline Frost announced emphatically in the Legislative Assembly on May 23rd that the Yukon’s Liberal Government will fully staff the territory’s Community Health Centres for this summer’s tourist season. Considering it’s now mid June, we wonder how that will happen. While Yukon Employees’ Union, Community Nurses and all of us who drive the highways would love to see this happen, so far there has been no action.
Nurses often work alone in small highway communities where they must be available 24/7 for weeks at a time with no relief. We hear of nurses working late into the night on and reporting for duty first thing in the morning, day after day. Nurses are routinely exposed to violence and threats on the job, and are more prone to make errors when they have no opportunity to rest. With no respite, the work is exhausting both physically and mentally.
The Collective Agreement signed between the employer and the union in 2016 included a Letter of Understanding addressing One Nurse Health Centres. This pilot project was designed to create additional full time nursing positions in both Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay, communities facing chronic nurse shortages. The dangerous under-staffing is most pronounced during the summer months when increased highway traffic and higher patient numbers tax the nurses to the near breaking point.
From May 1 to September 30, each of the two communities are to be staffed with an additional nurse, and a single additional nurse is to be on staff from October 1 to April 30th, shared equitably between the two communities. The addition of two full time staff for the busiest summer months will help alleviate the risk of overwork, personal safety and fatigue. That’s critical – not just for the nurses, but for the communities they serve and the many thousands who travel Yukon’s highways.
Yukon’s Nurses were promised this support in the ratification of Letter of Understanding M, designed to provide a second full time nurse in the two communities most consistently affected, Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay. Although that LOU came into effect with the current Collective Agreement January 1 2016, to date no more nurses have been hired.
We ask you to please click the image above and sign our petition. Ask Minister Frost to provide Yukon’s Community Nurses with the resources they have been promised, STAT!
November 17, 2015: Government & Union Reach Agreement on Nurses in Communities
Originally published on theunionbillboard.com, this letter was published in response to comments made in the press by Yukon’s Minister of Health & Social Services. Mike Nixon.
October 21, 2015
An Open Letter to Mike Nixon, Yukon’s Minister of Health & Social Services
From Steve Geick, YEU President & Career Community Nurse
As a nurse, I can’t believe your response to issues raised by ourselves and the NDP concerning the Community Nursing branch. I’m amazed at your lack of understanding of the realities healthcare professionals face in our rural communities and I shake my head at your blasé attitude toward the health & welfare of rural Yukoners.
As Union President, I am now more worried than ever for the health of nurses in the communities who tell us they are struggling and suffering. Whether your recent comments were based on misinformation, naiveté, arrogance or indifference you’ve misrepresented and manipulated the truth.
Let me take a few moments to point out where you’ve missed the mark.
1. Nurses in communities are leaving their jobs or choosing not to return to Yukon for new contracts. Your response that you’re “working with the YRNA on recruitment & retention” tells me you haven’t done your homework. Have you investigated why there is such a high rate of turnover? Your numbers were wrong as well; 2 nurses have chosen to retire and another 3 have simply given up…quit; not your stated 1 retiree and 1 resignation. Sure, turnover happens but the spike in resignations and retirements with more certain to come should have your alarm bells ringing. Community Nursing is in crisis. In my opinion, morale is the lowest it`s been since the service was devolved from the Federal Government.
2. Nurses worked alone in rural health centres for 182 days from March until the end of August. In one community, the health nurse worked alone for 52 days over the busy summer tourist season. Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada which allows a nurse (and a community) to be placed in that dangerous position. Working alone places nurses at greatly elevated risk of injury, violence and fatigue and increases the odds of error, putting patient safety at risk. No other first responders are expected to work alone; no firefighter, no RCMP, no-one.
3. You assert that Yukon nurses have never worked alone in a community for longer than five consecutive days; not true. That’s the result of flawed accounting of the true hours worked. The clock stops after five days; weekends aren’t counted–even when nurses work through the weekend-and stat holidays aren’t calculated. And though you may not be counting weekends, you’re certainly paying for them as overtime costs skyrocket.
4. Although you stated (incorrectly) that YG employs 40 community nurses, your staff corrected that number to 32. In fact, there are only 22.5 staffed nursing positions to serve the needs of rural Yukoners. Although there are 4 “float” positions to act as backup staff, those positions haven’t been filled for years. You tell us there are currently 11 vacant positions; that’s means the Yukon Government needs to hire 50% more nurses simply to meet its own required staffing levels. That’s not normal turnover; that’s a critical failure to manage operational needs.
Putting the numbers aside, there are problems in Community Nursing that need scrutiny. In my opinion, high turnover in such a critical area indicates serious systemic malfunction. Prolonged position vacancies, chronic recruitment/ retention problems and the departure of committed long-term employees mean something is wrong. I suggest you take a look at how things are working at Community Nursing and get things fixed before something awful happens.
Our members are talking. They’re talking to each other and they are certainly coming to talk with us. There are real problems in Community Nursing that this letter cannot address. You need to show some leadership and make it possible for these exhausted and under-resourced professionals to continue to provide the high quality care they are trained to provide.
One more suggestion: If you genuinely care about your employees and the health of rural Yukoners, get out from behind your desk. Travel to each health center – I’ll even drive you myself. Have open and honest conversations with the nurses. Allow them to speak freely without fear of reprisal or recrimination.
I think you’ll be surprised at what you learn… unless of course you already know but are choosing not to act.
Steve Geick, President, Yukon Employees’ Union,
Proud Community Nurse
Mr. Nixon was responding to the YEU’s blog post of October 8th: Yukon’s Community Nurses Need Resources STAT!