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Nursing shortage causing epidural delays in South Island's only maternity ward: BCNU

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Some labouring patients are experiencing longer waits than they may have anticipated for epidurals, due to a nursing shortage in the Victoria General Hospital’s labour and delivery ward, according to the BC Nurses Union (BCNU).

“We have nurses reaching out in moral distress because of the significant nursing shortage leading to delays in epidurals for expectant moms,” said Cait Jarvis, council member for BCNU’s South Island region.

“These expectant moms, they have nowhere else to go on the South Island.”

VGH has the only labour and delivery unit on southern Vancouver Island.

Jarvis doesn’t know how long the delays are or how many additional nurses are needed on the unit.

“But I do know that there are vacancies,” she said. “We hear nothing but stories of being short on this unit and other units in the hospital.”

Epidurals can take up hours of a nurse’s time, Jarvis said.

“When an anesthetist gives an epidural, that requires a nurse to be with that patient one-on-one to monitor for any adverse effects,” she said.

“If you have more than one patient and you’re being pulled in different directions, then … it makes it difficult for the nurse.”

Island Health said it triages patients based on their condition, so sometimes, non-urgent care is delayed.

“Timeliness of administering an epidural could be impacted by patient acuity and patient volumes on the unit,” a spokesperson said in an email to CTV News.

“We acknowledge this is challenging and we appreciate people’s patience as we improve maternity care on the South Island.”

The health authority said VGH has hired 10 nurses to undergo specialized labour and delivery training over the last year.

It also recently revised the unit’s staffing and rotation schedule by increasing daytime staffing, establishing eight-hour shifts and creating a standardized paid on-call rotation overnight.

“Health-care workforce challenges are having an impact across the country, including the South Island,” Island Health said. “Staffing challenges can occur for a variety of reasons, including temporary parental leave.”

'I know what that anxiety feels like'

Health-care critic Camille Currie said expectant parents are advised to have a delivery plan – a plan you don’t want to mess with.

“(As) a mother who has delivered two children, I know how this is one of the scariest moments in your life,” said Currie, founder of advocacy group BC Health Care Matters.

“I know what that anxiety feels like when all of a sudden you have to put all of your faith in the system. And what if the system isn’t really there to catch you?”

She said health-care workers are burning out and they need more support. BCNU said the number one way to make that happen is by establishing minimum nurse-patient ratios.

“We want our expectant moms to be having a really good experience on these units and we don’t want there to be adverse outcomes that potentially might be missed because we don’t have enough staff,” Jarvis said.

Island Health said local, national and international recruitment campaigns are ongoing.

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