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New nurses coming to ICUs: health authorities

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Health authorities reacting to improve conditions at area hospitals.

Health authorities reacting to improve conditions at area hospitals. Fotolia

The B.C. Nurses’ Union says it’s unsurprising many of its members working in intensive care units want to leave the job given the long hours required and the burnout that can be associated with working on the most critical injuries and illnesses.

A recent study conducted by a St. Paul’s Hospital researcher revealed 18% of current ICU nurses would leave their jobs, with the top reason being that they’re unable to provide the best care due to cost pressures at work.

“ICU nurses run on excessive amounts of overtime, they’re working 16-hour shifts ... there are just are not enough nurses available,” said BCNU president Gayle Duteil on Wednesday.

“When you repeatedly are not able to provide the care you want to provide — on average, nurses leave three to four essential tasks undone on their shift.

“When you’re constantly and emotionally exhausted with short staff and lack of time to do tasks, you do reach a level of burnout.”

ICU nurses generally work four days on, four days off, but can be expected to be called in on days off, Duteil said.

The provincial government recently announced 1,600 new regular nursing positions — 635 of them for the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, the two regions where the study was conducted.

Duteil said the positions are welcome but ICU nurses require specialty education, and it’s unclear whether the new hires would make an impact to the ICU workforce.

Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, in separate statements, said some of the additional nurses being hired will be placed in the ICU and emergency departments.

“Fraser Health has already increased its funding for specialty training and education by 30% across 10 programs, including ICU, this fiscal year at an average cost of about $25,000 per person,” the health authority said.

Fraser Health said moral distress “cannot be completely eliminated” when staff are working with those requiring critical care, but that there is counselling, support services, a stress management team to help workers deal with traumatic deaths, and even an ethics committee for disagreements on how to care for a dying patient.

VCH agreed moral distress can be part of the job, and that it offers many of the same supports as Fraser Health.

“Speaking on behalf of VCH and Providence Health Care, on a regional basis, we have been adding beds and increasing staff to ICUs in recent years. And we continue to invest in critical areas, such as ICUs,” VCH said in its statement.

In addition, VCH said it also offers staff counselling services run by a third-party non-profit society, who provides confidential one-to-one support for staff with personal or work-related concerns.