It is fitting that the Canadian Nurses’ Association theme for National Nursing Week May 10-16 is “We Answer the Call.” From day one of this unparalleled and extraordinary COVID-19 pandemic that has enveloped our world for over a year, nurses have continued to stand where they always do – caring for patients, families and communities when they need it the most.
Nurses are in every part of our health and care system. In hospitals, long-term care homes, public health units, clients’ homes, testing centres, vaccination clinics, undertaking cutting-edge COVID-19 research, and leading pandemic response from boardroom to point of care, nurses unique contribution to the health and wellness of our region is ever-present. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light more than ever the professionalism, wisdom, knowledge, skill, and compassion that nurses bring to work everyday and the important roles they play in our communities.
“While the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and there have been many shining examples of perseverance, resilience and teamwork, we must also remember that all nurses are human and have lives of their own,” said Kathy McNeil, Island Health President and CEO. “They may have their own health issues, be caring for aging parents, home-schooling their children, and experiencing the same fear of isolation and loneliness that has impacted us all. Now, more than ever, nurses deserve recognition and Nursing Week presents the perfect opportunity to show appreciation for the nurses in your life.”
Registered Nurse Lizzy Hannah works in the Intensive Care Unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. When the pandemic arrived at NRGH, she recalls that many team members were overwhelmed with feelings of the unknown.
“Everyday information and policies were changing to accommodate new information about the virus,” said Lizzy. “We never knew what we were going to be presented with on each shift, and preparing mentally for that was a challenge. We watched in horror as the case numbers and deaths climbed in places like New York and Italy, and it was terrifying anticipating something like that happening on Vancouver Island. There was the fear of catching the virus ourselves, questioning whether we were wearing adequate Personal Protective Equipment, praying we were not bringing the virus home to our families.”
One of the biggest impacts for Lizzy has been the visitor restrictions. “It is difficult to tell family members they cannot be with their loved ones when they are critically ill,” she said. “This is especially hard when we have patients fighting the COVID-19 virus. They are afraid, and nurses are the ones providing them with comfort, holding their hands when they are intubated, not knowing if they will survive. We facilitate those final zoom calls with family so they can say goodbye, and it is heartbreaking. Despite the unease, moral distress and exhausting work, I believe that our team has risen above and beyond. Our leaders, physicians, and nurses have continued to show up despite the fear and fatigue, providing the same level of excellent care we always do.”
Diane Maille is a Public Health Nurse in the Cowichan Valley who provides breastfeeding support, newborn and post partum assessments and immunizations to babies and children. She is one of many nurses who pivoted from her regular position to provide vaccinations at one of Island Health’s COVID-19 immunization clinics. “It feels good knowing in a time of uncertainty that I can contribute in my role as a nurse to help my community stay safe,” she said. “The best part of being a nurse is knowing I have helped someone. Many people are anxious about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are always surprised when it’s over that they didn’t even feel a poke.”
Joel Bailey is a nurse with Island Health’s Nursing Support Services. Joel works with Nanaimo and Cowichan school staff who provide care for children with diabetes, seizure disorders and those who are fed via feeding tubes. He meets with families, creates care plans and trains school staff to assist children while attending school. “Even though we are busy, short staffed and are being pulled into other roles to help with the pandemic, I want people to know that we are still here to help their children,” said Joel.
When the pandemic hit, Joel was called on to help out at COVID-19 testing centres and immunization clinics. He often brings his bagpipes to the clinics to play for those arriving for their vaccinations, resulting in many smiling faces.
The burden of the pandemic has weighed heavily on many of BC’s long-term care homes. Nurses continue to work tirelessly to keep long-term care residents, their families and colleagues safe. Early in the pandemic, Marlene Montgomery, a registered nurse living in Victoria who has worked with Infection Control, spent a month working with care home staff on the lower mainland learning from their COVID-19 outbreak experiences. “I am so amazed by the opportunity I was given,” said Marlene. “To be able to go to a different health authority to share information and learning is such a wonderful example of a healthcare family that transcends health authority boundaries. I’ve used every lesson that I learned and we’ve incorporated many of these lessons into Island Health’s long-term care outbreak response.”
Saanich-based Public Health Nurse Jen Slade is thankful to work with exceptional nursing colleagues, describing them as having “hearts as big as Mount Washington.”
“When some needed to take a step back, others took up the call and went out to the front lines” said Jen. “Seeing nurses come out of retirement, like the one who provided my COVID-19 vaccine, brings tears to my eyes. I remember thanking her and she shared a bit about her nursing story and that she felt called to come back to assist in the pandemic crisis. She even showed me how to prep a COVID-19 vaccine and taught me about the new charting system at the clinics, demonstrating the life-long role of the nurse as mentor, teacher and advocate for health, which exists beyond nursing practice. These attributes translate into our every day and do not leave us when the shift ends or with retirement.”
BC Indigenous Nurses Day is celebrated as a part of National Nursing Week. It’s a day to celebrate the ways in which Indigenous nurses contribute to the health and well-being of communities through the integrated use of traditional knowledge, healing practices and nursing education. Indigenous nurses bring an extraordinary understanding of health-care issues and cultural safety to the care of people in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Island Health.
Nurses have many roles across Island Health. Registered nurse Grant Robinson is Island Health’s Indigenous Health Manager on South Island.
“It is extremely important for indigenous people to be represented in the health care system,” he said. “Indigenous nurses help provide cultural safety and competency while providing care. I help facilitate these services in acute care and community in my role as the South Island Manager. I have an overwhelming sense of pride for my team and feel privileged to work with such a dynamic group of individuals.”
“All of us have a role to play in supporting and advocating for the health of our communities, and in supporting all nurses everywhere, “ said Krista Allan, Island Health’s Vice President, Knowledge, Practice and Chief Nurse Executive. “Nurses are the backbone of our health system, and this week we stand together to honour their work and their dedication to the people they serve.”
National Nursing Week is an opportunity to celebrate and honour the profound contribution that nursing makes to health and wellness. On May 12, we celebrate International Nurses Day and raise our hands in gratitude for the nurses who show up every day, every where, to provide and lead excellent care.