The BC Nurses’ Union is concerned about the capacity of the provincial health care system to respond to the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, due to understaffing and overcrowding at emergency rooms and long-term care facilities.
“We are very concerned about our capacity as a health care system to manage large numbers of people who may be presenting in emergency rooms with symptoms,” BCNU president Christine Sorensen told Black Press Media. “There is no capacity in the system to accept large numbers of patients.”
B.C. nurses are already working “enormous amount of overtime” and “across the province emergency rooms are often at capacity,” Sorensen added.
She said the union has been expressing its concerns to medical health officers in twice-weekly meetings, but so far, aside from signage going up in emergency rooms advising people to put on a mask, notify a nurse and move into isolation if they present with respiratory symptoms, discussions have not led to much change on the ground.
“Our emergency rooms are full. It is difficult to find isolation rooms,” Sorensen said.
“Planning is good … but for the nurses, we are already working short, we are already working copious amounts of overtime … and nurses are concerned about the capacity of our system to be able to manage.
“We have plans in place. Now we have to move toward activation of those plans.”
In a briefing on Feb. 21, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam said hospital capacity is a “critical aspect” of preparedness for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
“If we can delay the impact of the coronavirus until a certain period, when there’s less influenza for example, that would also be very helpful,” Tam said.
Sorenson said people can also help by washing hands, staying home if they are sick and calling ahead if they plan to go to a health facility with respiratory symptoms.
But ideally, she said systemic issues such as understaffing and overcrowding can be addressed.
“We do have a lot of people who are very committed to working to take care of patients in this country,” she added.
“We’re doing the best we can.”