By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 14, 2020.
Problem of those who work the system must be addressed
I have heard concerns from some in the public sector regarding their ongoing contract negotiations with the government. Public-sector employees have one particularly negative consequence to their job; every time their contract is up for renewal they become pawns of often contentious negotiations.
They are portrayed by both sides in extreme measures, all the while watching how they are described by those who seem to forget that this is their job, their livelihood and not a theoretical entity. Each part of their occupation has the potential to be dissected and debated with the highest scrutiny by anyone who chooses, regardless of their knowledge or understanding of the work at stake.
Nurses are in this process right now and some context may be helpful for the general public. Nursing is an essential service, therefore making it one of the only occupations that must be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, always and forever. Be it Labour Day or Christmas Day, every holiday needs a full complement and regular rotation.
Not everyone’s special requests can be granted, which means there’s always someone who has to work and miss out on time with family and friends. Yes, components such as shift differential and hourly pay do come into play É but no amount of money can replace Christmas morning at home.
For most nurses I speak with, wages aren’t even the top issue; they’re more concerned with staffing levels. Many people don’t understand what working shortstaffed means at 9 in the evening. Nurses could be bandaging a wound, cleaning a bedpan (yes, we still use those), charting vitals, protecting patient safety, requesting drugs or labs, giving reports, all at the same time and for multiple patients. They sometimes carry this workload for 12-hour days because the volume is continuous, regardless of whether or not the staff is full or short.
Nurses are the faithful administrators of a huge amount of life-saving care, but they face a discouraging lack of understanding. People become frustrated over wait times and are more than ready with unfair questions and accusations. One decimal point out on a drug calculation could mean overdose. Missing a report could mean key treatments are either missed or doubled. All this requires dedicated concentration. And then to top it all off, nurses are often regarded as “the help” instead of being recognized for the absolutely vital support they are, not only to doctors, but the entire health community.
Nurses need to be respected and protected, as do the many other public-sector employees like teachers, EMS personnel, prison guards and librarians.
It’s for that very reason something needs to be done when a few manage to work the system and earn two, three or four times the typical full-time salary. The recent AHS review showed that 1,852 nurses earned between $150,000 and $250,000 per year, potentially adding almost $200 million in costs above average nursing salaries. This can occur in any occupation, when the few can ruin the system for the many. Having been a former construction contractor in a sector where they literally make shows about this, I should know. As a government looking to correct finances, this is an issue that must be addressed. Unfortunately, pinpointing the instigators isn’t always possible because of the words “collective bargaining agreement.” Those three words represent both the strength and weakness of unions; when you deal with one, you deal with all.
So, the next time you are in a hospital and nurses are sitting at a desk or talking to a colleague, please realize that they are doing indispensable work. Protecting someone’s confidentiality, confirming a transfer, making a calculation or transferring vital information, all for the health and safety of someone like you. Remember that there could be a lot more going on that you can neither see nor have access to.
In the same way, a politician can advocate for nurses and appropriate staffing at the same time as trying to balance the budget.
Nathan Neudorf is the UCP MLA for Lethbridge East. His column appears monthly.