November 15, 2017

Our health care system is hurting

Registered Nurses know better than anyone that our health care system is hurting.

We see the dangers every day.

It’s Registered Nurses who juggle too many responsibilities when working short-staffed, all the while knowing a mistake could be fatal. It’s Registered Nurses who see the care of clients, residents, and patients delayed or procedures cancelled when there aren’t enough RNs.

Every Registered Nurse enters their profession to use their in-depth knowledge, skill, and judgement to give each patient their best outcome and improve our population’s health.

No Registered Nurse wants to see care suffering or risks to patients increasing, but inadequate staffing practices have become the norm in our province, and health care needs continue to rise and become more complex.

We have among the oldest populations in Canada and some of the highest rates of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Yet, core Registered Nurse staffing has not kept pace with our demographic changes and the rising complexity of care in Newfoundland and Labrador.

RNs worked over 240,000 hours of overtime last year. They frequently work short-staffed and often work long hours. In fact, RNs worked over 1,200 shifts greater than 16 hours last year. Sometimes those shifts were 24 hours long.

How is this acceptable for patients or for Registered Nurses? Our patients need a solution and so do RNs.

Registered nurses already face a challenging work environment. They are at high risk to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. And just by doing their job, RNs are at a higher risk of violence than a police officer.

Add to this inadequate staffing and you can see how this leads to burnout, fatigue, and low morale among RNs. It doesn’t take an expert to know that this is unsustainable.

More than three-quarters of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians agree there aren’t enough RNs to provide quality health care.

The people of our province see how care is being impacted. They experience it firsthand – long waits on stretchers in emergency rooms, procedures being postponed, and delays receiving care. Family members who have loved ones in long-term care know how very little time a Registered Nurse gets to spend with a resident due to staffing.

On top of negatively impacting patient care, improper RN staffing is costing our province money. Last year, we spent $47 million on vital overtime and sick leave. Without more full-time RNs, we could spend the same amount this year – or more.

Or, we can invest in safer Registered Nurse staffing levels, and create a more efficient system. After all, the research is clear: more RNs means better patient outcomes and decreased health care costs.

With more RNs, patients who experience a cardiac arrest in hospital have a greater chance of survival. With more RNs, readmission of surgical patients may decrease by nearly 50%. More RNs decrease falls, infections, and lengths of stay.

The objective when investing in health care is that patient outcomes will improve. Overwhelming research on RN staffing proves that investing in RN nursing budgets, not only improves patient outcomes, it leads to health system savings. Keeping our seniors out of hospital, preventing infections and complications, improving timely access to care – it will all save money.

This week the Registered Nurses’ Union launched a campaign called More Full-Time RNs Can Save A Lot. This is a campaign based on research. Research that shows more RNs will lead to better patient outcomes. Research that shows more RNs will mean a safer, more effective system.

It’s time we listen to this research. We owe the people of Newfoundland and Labrador a safer and more cost efficient health care system. And we owe RNs a better working environment. More Full-Time RNs Can Save A Lot.

Debbie Forward, RN

President, Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland & Labrador