Nurses and firefighters team up to demand more staff to deal with overdose crisis
'Sometimes you're seeing the same person [overdose] multiple times a shift. And you're seeing a lot of death.'
B.C. nurses and firefighters have teamed up to plead for more frontline staff and support to deal with the opioid overdose crisis but stopped short of quantifying their demands.
The request comes as the province moves ahead on a number of new initiatives to address the crisis, including the opening of multiple overdose prevention sites around the province.
"Not since the early '90s when we were in the midst of the HIV epidemic has this province faced a health-care crisis like we are in now," said Gayle Duteil of the B.C. Nurses Union.
"Our first responders — nurses and firefighters — are working around the clock saving lives, sometimes at the cost of their own physical and mental well being."
'You're seeing a lot of death'
B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association president Gord Ditchburn echoed those sentiments, saying that some firefighters are dealing with up to 20 overdose cases per shift.
"It does take a toll," he said. "You come back from the call. You're right out the door ... sometimes you're seeing the same person [overdose] multiple times in a shift. And you're seeing a lot of death."
B.C. has recorded 622 illicit drug overdose deaths from Jan. 1 to the end of October. It's expected that number will reach 750 by year end.
Duteil says there is an urgent need for more emergency room nurses and specially trained nurses, two categories in which nurses are already "working short" around the province.
'They don't just grow on trees'
"Abbotsford Hospital, at last count, has over 30 vacancies in its emergency department," she said. "So as we look to staff these very good initiatives — the medical mobile unit, the supervised injection sites or the [overdose prevention] observation sites — they will need emergency nurses."
"We don't have a specific number but we know these sites when they open will need three or four nurses per shift," she said. "And when you're talking 24-7 service, it does take a significant number to meet that demand. And they don't just grow on trees."
"We would always look at additional firefighters in the community, if needed, where they're needed — obviously the Downtown Eastside and other areas of the province where they're dealing with [overdoses]," said Ditchburn. "That comes down to each council and each department determining that number."