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DARPAN 10 with Aman Grewal, BCNU President

Darpan News Desk, 19 Nov, 2021 03:20 PM
  • DARPAN 10 with Aman Grewal, BCNU President

As President, I look forward to continuing to support our nurses during these challenging times of the pandemic, the opioid crisis, and ongoing nurse staffing crisis. 

 

 

 

1. Tell us about your career path? 

Nursing has been a career path that I never really knew I had a calling for until I started on this journey. In nursing school, I knew that I wanted to care for children. I began my nursing career at Surrey Memorial Hospital and worked in the pediatric unit, emergency department and in the pediatric emergency department. I am also passionate about pediatric diabetes and diabetes education and have worked as a Diabetes Educator in the Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) Diabetes Clinic, the SMH Pediatric Diabetes Clinic, as well as work within the South Asian community providing diabetes education and testing. 

As a nurse, I am proud to have been able to respond to situations that have resulted in life-saving scenarios. I take great pride in all that we do as nurses and the impact it has on peoples’ lives. 

One of the great things about a career in nursing is that there are so many different career opportunities to pursue. I have held a variety of positions at SMH including clinical care coordinator, patient care coordinator (pediatrics) and diabetes nurse educator, shift coordinator and site leader. These roles helped develop my interest in leadership. 

My involvement with BCNU started early in my nursing career when I took on the challenge of serving as regional job action coordinator for SMH. Following that, I served on the Worksite Job Action Committee and as a local level union representative for over 15 years, providing me the opportunity to advocate on behalf of fellow nurses and patients. 

I was elected as BCNU Vice President in 2019 and re-elected in 2020. Since being elected to the provincial executive, I have served as chair of BCNU's Human Rights and Equity Committee, Truth and Reconciliation Working Group, as well as several working groups including the Seniors Strategy and Internationally Educated Nurses. 

I believe in advocating for social justice and raising equity issues for patients, communities, and members which includes fighting to ensure fellow nurses' rights are protected. 

As President, I look forward to continuing to support our nurses during these challenging times of the pandemic, the opioid crisis, and ongoing nurse staffing crisis. 

 

2. Tell us about the organization BCNU and the work it does? 

 

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is a member-driven organization representing over 48,000 professional nurses and allied health care workers providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities and in the community. BCNU’s mission is to ensure the health and safety of our members, provide support and representation to members and advocate for safe, quality, public health care. We value and respect diversity, and pride ourselves in providing protection, representation, and services to all members. 

The union engages with external partners including government, the Health Employers Association of BC, health authorities and others to advance the delivery of safe patient care and lobby for positive change to ensure accessible health care for all. BCNU supports our members by negotiating a collective agreement, assisting and supporting them in the grievance process, assisting members who are injured while on the job, and supporting human rights and equity initiatives through the work of member-driven caucus groups. Empowerment of women, support for our future nurses through bursaries and educational opportunities and the creation of future advocates by fostering knowledge and activism are ways that we continue to advocate for safe working conditions, adequate safe staffing levels, wages, benefits, and gender equity for our members. 

 

3. What does it mean for you to be a Woman of South Asian heritage in the role of BCNU President? 

I have a tremendous sense of pride taking on this role, just as I did when I assumed the role of Vice President. My father was a member of the International Woodworkers of America and I always admired his camaraderie and devotion to his union. This instilled a desire in me to also participate and engage in union activities from the start of my career in nursing. 

I reflect on what my ancestors endured coming to Canada and the foundations that they lay for us. My sense of accomplishment is the fruits of all their suffering, hard work, and determination which have now afforded me to be in the position that I am in now. 

My great-grandfather traveled to Canada via train from India to Shanghai and then by ship in 1906 – a journey that took several months. Thankfully, he was allowed into the country and even took the trek back to India to bring my maternal grandfather to Canada as well. My mother speaks of the Partition of India in 1947 and the atrocities and fears that they had to overcome. 

As a Sikh woman of color representing more than 48,000 members of such diverse cultures, I embrace the professionalism, dedication, and hard work that our members have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have made it through SARS, H1N1 and now, our dedicated nurses are tirelessly treating patients suffering from COVID-19. These nurses are the communication link to their COVID-19 patients’ families. They are often the last contact in the case of patients who succumb to the virus, and they are their patients’ champions when they recover. 

4. What do you feel will be some challenges you will encounter in your new role? 

With change there is a time for learning and adjustment. Establishing oneself in the new role and making the connections with external partners, listening to our membership’s needs, and embracing the leadership team as we move forward for the betterment of our members’ work-life balance. Working conditions remain important to me and will be a priority for the bargaining team as they begin work to negotiate a collective agreement. 

5. There has been a backlash from some nurses regarding the mandatory vaccination order. How do you hope to address this issue? 

BCNU strongly supports vaccination and science-based decision making. We encourage nurses, other health care workers, and all members of the public to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other communicable diseases as a preventive personal and public measure. 

At a time when the union is pleading with health employers to improve staffing levels across this province, we expressed concern that the mandatory nature of the province’s vaccination strategy may compel some members to leave, further exacerbating a staffing shortage that is increasingly unmanageable. BCNU’s concern is, and always has been, patient care and ensuring safe staffing levels. 

We recognize a high percentage of nurses in this province are vaccinated and believe in science-based decision making. BCNU remains committed to providing support to unvaccinated members on a case-by-case basis. 

As president, I am eager to work with all levels of government to address the critical staff shortage and will ensure our members’ concerns are heard. 

6. There has been a shortage of nurses prior to COVID-19 and now due to the vaccination mandate some will be forced out of their job and this put will extra strain on hospital staff, how are you hoping to resolve this? 

BC’s health-care sector has been critically short staffed for decades and the union has been consistently pressuring the government to develop an urgent and immediate plan of action to support our nurses. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified how underfunded nurse staffing has been over the years and has really highlighted a systemic retention issue – one that is prevalent across the country, not just in this province. We need all levels of government to act now as patient care is at stake. 

I look forward to the opportunity to work with government, health authorities and other partners to seek short and long-term recruitment and retention strategies. Treating nurses with respect is a first step towards improving the toxic workplace culture and environment which is a contributing factor to nurses leaving the profession. Other possible short-term solutions include hiring additional support staff to carry out non-nursing duties and offering more support and mentorship for new nurses. 

By 2029, BC will need upwards of 24,000 nurses just to keep pace with the replacement of nurses who are retiring and leaving the profession. One solution is to focus on recruitment. We need the province of BC to fund more seats in all nursing schools to clear up the long waiting lists. Students are waiting years to get into nursing school, only to experience difficulty in acquiring clinical time and space for them to practice the skills they have learned in nursing school in a hands-on environment with patients. 

7. Nurses have worked long hours during the pandemic and have experienced burnout. As a leader of the organization what measures do you feel need to be put in place for their mental and physical well-being? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a physical and mental toll on all of us, but especially our frontline health care workers who are caring for British Columbians when they are most vulnerable. BCNU conducted a survey of its members in May 2021 during the province’s third wave of COVID-19 to gain greater understanding of the impact of the pandemic. Staffing and workload were by far the most commonly cited issues with 76% of respondents saying their workload has increased compared to before the pandemic. A staggering 85% of nurses reported their mental health has worsened and 65% have said their physical health has declined. 

Nurses who are suffering from burnout and other mental health concerns need to have access to the appropriate supports and funding to address the psychological impacts of all that they’ve had to endure during this pandemic. Nurses have held the hands of people dying without their loved ones by their side. Sadly, some have had to do this several times in one shift. The moral distress experienced by nurses on a routine basis has no doubt contributed to the worsening mental health of our members. In addition, nurses remain fearful of bringing the virus home to their loved ones, many of whom having gone so far as to move out of their own homes to protect their families resorting to living in their garages or seeking out rental suites. 

In addition to caring for patients during a global COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are also dealing with an opioid crisis and a staffing shortage, resulting in them taking on more patients than they would normally be assigned to care for. 

As President, I will continue to use my voice to advocate on behalf of our members. We need the government to take swift action and invest immediately in our health care system for the sake of all British Columbians whose health care depends on it. 

8. What kind of assistance would you like to see from the provincial government? 

We are nearly two years into this global pandemic and our nurses and health care workers are exhausted from working overtime, being denied days off and working long hours without scheduled breaks as they are so short of staff they cannot leave a patient’s bedside. There are simply not enough nurses to provide care to British Columbians who depend on them. 

BCNU continues to lobby government to invest in more nurses. This includes more nursing school seats and funding for specialty nurse education, removing barriers for internationally educated nurses to gain licensure in BC, and increasing the number of long-term care beds and community staff to facilitate discharges. 

Nurses also need the government to commit to ensuring their safety as the number of violent incidents has reached shocking levels. BCNU has been calling for the hiring of protection services officers (PSO) at worksites across the province to protect our nurses, their patients, and the public. PSOs are uniformed health authority employees with additional specialized training in security and de-escalation that are more deeply integrated into the care teams and able to provide greater assistance to patients and health-care workers during violent incidents than private security services. 

9. What more would you like being done for nurses whether it is pay, safety, etc.? 

Violence against nurses is a huge issue in BC, one that is unacceptable and preventable. BCNU has been asking the government and health authorities to commit to a number of solutions including hiring properly trained security personnel at worksites 24/7, implementing Code White standards and the use of personal alarms. 

It is unacceptable that the profession of nursing is not protected and that assaults on nurses are not considered a crime. Federal legislation was put forward but has not been passed. Change is need immediately to protect the nursing staff who are putting themselves on the line to care for patients, as well as anyone else entering these facilities. 

At the start of the pandemic, nurses were treated as heroes, people were banging pots and cheering every night at 7:00 p.m. Nurses want people to know they are human too. They have families and loved ones that they are also concerned for and want to safely go home to. They want to be respected and treated with kindness; they do not want to be attacked, hit, cursed at or spat on when they go to work. 

Safe staffing levels mean safety for our patients. Better mental health supports as well as pay increases that not only keep pace with inflation, but also show our nurses that they are valued is important. 

 

10. What's a message you would like to share with the South Asian community? 

Our South Asian community is a very rich, diverse and caring community. Our communities are entrenched in providing Seva, a selfless act or service that is performed without any expectation to receive any reward. There are many members of BCNU who are of South Asian descent amongst other ethnicities who have chosen this profession to provide care to our communities throughout the province. 

I would like to ask these communities to take care of the nurses who are caring for their loved ones during their most vulnerable moments, whether it be in times of joy with the birth of a new baby, care following an emergency trauma, recovery following a scheduled surgery or holding the hand of your loved one as they are dying with family present. Please respect them and help keep them safe. 

Nobody is invincible to COVID-19. Let’s protect those around us – our children, grandchildren, parents, extended family members and neighbors by following Provincial Health Orders which exist for all of our protection. 

If you are not vaccinated against COVID-19 or influenza yet, please consider doing so. Vaccinations are an important protective measure. Take care of yourselves and one another. Together, we can get through this. 

The South Asian community is sadly acutely affected by the opioid crisis and gang wars. Spend quality family time with your children and instill your families’ strong values, encourage and engage in healthy activities such as sports and other extra-curricular clubs to engage in and contribute in Seva. 

Please stay safe, stay healthy and be kind and respectful. 

 

Photo: AMAN GREWAL/ BCNU

 

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