British Columbia

Nurses, firefighters say childcare access critical to keep them on the front lines of COVID-19 crisis

With schools closed across the province, front-line workers are struggling to work long shifts and find around-the-clock childcare in the midst of a public health emergency.

B.C. Nurses' Union president says overnight care for kids is essential so staff can work extended shifts

Patients wait inside the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre in Vancouver on March 13. Nurses are working around-the-clock to test and treat patients who may have COVID-19 and their union president says it has been a struggle for many to find childcare so they can stay at it. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Taking care of COVID-19 patients while worrying about who will take care of your own family is the reality for many British Columbians on the front lines of the current health crisis.

As of Thursday morning, 231 cases of the disease had been confirmed in B.C., with seven deaths, and it's all hands on deck at health-care facilities.

With K-12 schools shut indefinitely and parents scrambling to find childcare, the leaders of the provincial nurses union and firefighters association say front-line workers need a solution.

"Having access to childcare will be critical for all essential workers as we move through this," said Christine Sorenson, president of the B.C. Nurses' Union on The Early Edition on Thursday.

She said it is particularly challenging for her union's members to find care because neighbours and elderly relatives are fearful of watching nurses' children and being exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Sorenson says many health-care workers are working extended hours during this unprecedented time and need overnight care for their children.

Many members are anxious and stressed because they are torn between helping the public and helping their own families, while some are also dealing with the turmoil of caring for patients who have since died, she added.

"This is the time to offer them support in any way that you can," said Sorenson, reminding people who know a health-care worker to reach out and check in. 

Torn between work and home

Gord Ditchburn, president of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, echoed Sorenson's concerns.

"Its a toll on people, they have loved ones at home that need care as well," said Ditchburn, also on The Early Edition Thursday.

He said the association is working hard to provide mental health support for firefighters during the crisis, but concerns about childcare are also weighing heavily on staff.

"They need to have that mental health capacity knowing that their families are looked after while they are out serving the public," said Ditchburn.

Firefighters are also coping with the stress of working on the front lines as they respond to emergency calls during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Six firefighters from Langley, B.C., are currently  in social isolation after being potentially exposed to the virus during a medical call on March 9.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from The Early Edition

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