BC nurses’ days off

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Wellness programs are hurtful to nurses and the populations they work with

By Rachel Braeuer
Photos by John Atherton

There is little more infuriating than someone who doesn’t know shit about shit trying to tell you how to do your job. If you don’t believe me, ask a nurse. From knowing what being sick looks like, to getting a flu shot, they just don’t know how to do their jobs. At least, that’s what you’d believe if you trust Perry Kendall, the BC provincial health officer recently rising to fame for misquoting a Cochrane review in a Vancouver Sun letter to the editor in an attempt to vilify health care workers who don’t receive their flu shots. Don’t worry, though. He got his ass handed to him by Dr. Tom Jefferson, who works for the Cochrane Respiratory and Infections group (whose review Kendall misquotes) via his followup letter to the editor. This public repartee has caused an interesting turn. Now that facts are out of the way, the discussion can return to what it was before: workers are told they aren’t doing it right and publicly shamed for it. Except we aren’t talking about it.

The first instance of Kendall insinuating nurses aren’t taking due diligence was a two-for-one deal published by the CBC in August, with the media only latching on to one half of his barrage, despite the BCNU’s direct responses to the bullshit. Beyond indicating he would try to make flu shots mandatory, he spoke to nurses coming in to work despite showing signs of influenza. Out of context, this sounds terrible. What Kendall fails to mention is that nurses are being given disciplinary action for taking too many employer-defined sick days, despite being within the BCNU’s allowed 18/year for full-time nurses. If an employer deems that an employee has been sick too often, they get put in a wellness program. Seems nice enough in theory, but in practive it is a series of scheduled meetings between a nurse and their employer to see why they’re sick so often that have more to do with the employer making sure the nurse understands they won’t be getting the hours they’re used to, nor might they be allowed to put in for overtime if they continue to rack up sick days. This goes against the BCNU’s collective agreement. They have filed numerous grievances against a host of the province’s health authorities, but regardless, these wellness programs trudge on.

Nurses may show up to work despite exhibiting symptoms of the flu or other illnesses in an attempt to avoid these meetings, according to Margaret Dhillon, BCNU’s executive councillor. She stressed the rhetoric of concern these unsupportive meetings get shrouded in, the result of which is the wellness program, which works contrary to established sterile technique that these nurses would be well aware of. Furthermore, in most cases there are already [pullquote]Kendall fails to mention that nurses are being given disciplinary action for taking too many employer-defined sick days despite being within the BCNU’s allowed 18/year.[/pullquote]programs present in hospitals to deal with nurses who are experiencing serious health problems to facilitate unusual amounts of sick time. There is no need for these programs; they are essentially just a bully doppelganger of an already functional program. As provincial health officer, Perry Kendall should be aware of this, and yet he goes on the record with a letter to the editor defaming nurses. Meanwhile health care providers going to work sick for fear of disciplinary action.

This year I say we forego the yearly debate over the flu shot. I propose we have a discussion of working conditions instead, and think about the ways things like so-called wellness programs contribute to the flu killing a significant portion of “at-risk” populations, or maybe even about how being pressured to do a better job with fewer resources might be contributing to C. difficile virus that many hospitals are dealing with breakouts of while you read this, despite you not reading about it in the news, mainly because hospital employees would be fired in an instant if they breathed a word of it from their apparently influenza-filled mouths.