Internal memo shows shortage of nurses at Kelowna's hospital

KGH nurses 'burning out'

An internal staff memo last month from Kelowna General Hospital's leadership team pleading for volunteers for acute care nursing shifts points to staffing shortages and burnout at KGH, according to the BC Nurses' Union.

Union president Christine Sorensen tells Castanet that a shortage of nurses, particularly ICU and acute care nurses, has been an ongoing problem at KGH exacerbated by the pandemic. "The memo two weeks ago is an indication of a problem that has not been addressed."

"There is an urgent need for staff on inpatient medical and surgical units at KGH. If you are available to work any hours as early as tonight and over the weekend, contact your manager directly," the memo, dated April 15, reads.

Sorenson says nurses are calling in sick more often and other nurses are being asked to come in on their days off, usually on overtime rates. "Nurses are no longer picking up overtime shifts. Nurses are exhausted from the efforts that they've made during the pandemic. They physically can't do it anymore."

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry admitted last month that overtime shifts are getting harder and harder to fill as healthcare workers burn out. During a presentation on April 19, she cited KGH as one of a handful of BC Interior hospitals feeling the squeeze.

While elective surgeries have been cancelled at some hospitals due to rising COVID-19 cases, Interior Health says that is not yet the case in Kelowna.

Interior Health's media relations team sent us an email response.

"This memo from last month during an outbreak at KGH was part of ongoing surge planning. Like all hospitals, KGH monitors and manages staffing levels daily, taking into consideration many factors. There is a regular staffing process in place to allow the hospital to respond to specific needs."

But Sorenson says "the memo is showing really how very quickly things are changing throughout this pandemic."

Even though KGH is not experiencing the same surge in coronavirus patients as the Lower Mainland, she says the impact of surgical renewals and COVID-19 "is having an incredible impact on KGH."

Sorenson is calling on the province to come up with a plan.

"It's a shame that this government has not developed a human resources plan to address the nursing crisis in the province. We're in a worldwide nursing shortage and critical care nurses can go anywhere they want. Unfortunately, difficult working conditions can cause recruitment and retention issues."

Frontline health care workers across the world have been dealing with burnout due to the pandemic. Kathryn Ivey, an intensive care nurse in Tennessee, went viral on social media with photos showing the physical toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on her.

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