British Columbia

B.C. nurses fight for access to new provincial PTSD labour laws

The B.C. Nurses Union rallied in downtown Vancouver Thursday to demand access to post traumatic stress disorder treatment from the province.

Proposed legislation includes first responders, sheriffs and correctional officers

The B.C. Nurses Union rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery Thursday for their inclusion in new labour laws that provide support for first responders who experience job-related trauma. (EVA UGUEN-CSENGE/CBC)

The B.C. Nurses Union rallied in downtown Vancouver Thursday to demand access to post traumatic stress disorder treatment from the province.

Legislative amendments announced on April 11 help first responders, sheriffs and correctional officers get assistance for the mental disorder without providing proof that it's related to their work.

Nurses say the nature of their jobs should qualify them for the same care.

"Nurses are a very resilient group of professionals. They try extremely hard to go to work every day and do the best they can on behalf of their patients," Union president Christine Sorensen told B.C. Almanac guest host Angela Sterritt.

Sorensen said nurses are suffering physically and psychologically from the violence and stress they experience on the job, with no formal support from government.

"It's time, I think, for us to begin taking care of our nurses."

Not a new problem

Three years ago Tania Dick was involved in an incident at work that resulted in a diagnosis of PTSD, which kept her from nursing for over a year.

Dick, president of the Association of Registered Nurses of B.C., has been a nurse for 15 years.

"This is not new," she said. "We're seeing … the price tag of absenteeism in our hospitals with people having to step away from work."

For most of her career Dick has worked in rural or remote communities. In those areas, she said, nurses are often the first point of contact for patients, rather than EMS or paramedics.

"We kind of run on adrenaline as it is and we don't know what's going to come through the door," she said.

Preparing new nurses

Students at UBC's School of Nursing begin with discussions about self-care and safe work practices in their very first term, according to the program director Elizabeth Saewyc.

"The goal is to provide effective and safe practice for the patients that we work with, but also to prepare the nurses to be supportive to each other and take care of themselves," Saewyc said.

Peer support is one of the most valuable resources nurses have available, said Bernie Pauly, a nursing professor at the University of Victoria and a scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.

"Nobody understands it better than another nurse," Pauly said.

But she points out that the biggest hurdle for many first responders is addressing the fatigue or mental stress.

"It's hard for nurses to talk about this because … we pride ourselves on being able to handle really difficult situations," Pauly said. "It's not always easy for us to ask for help." 

To hear the full episode listen to media below:

With files from B.C. Almanac