Island Health recognizes pandemic challenges on International Nurses Day

Nisha Yunus, a residential care aide in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, receives her COVID-19 immunization on Dec. 15, 2020. || B.C. government photo.
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To mark International Nurses Day, Island Health profiled Vancouver Island nurses and their experiences caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.

Registered Nurse Lizzy Hannah works in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. Hannah said she and many of her team members felt overwhelmed by feelings of the unknown at the start of the pandemic.

“We never knew what we were going to be presented with on each shift and preparing mentally for that was a challenge. We watched in horror as the case numbers and deaths climbed in places like New York and Italy and it was terrifying anticipating something like that happening on Vancouver Island,” she said. 

“There was the fear of catching the virus ourselves, questioning whether we were wearing adequate personal protective equipment, praying we were not bringing the virus home to our families.” 

Hannah said hospital visitor restrictions is one of the hardest things about working during the pandemic. She said telling family members they cannot be with their critically ill loved ones is difficult.

“They are afraid and nurses are the ones providing them with comfort, holding their hands when they are intubated, not knowing if they will survive,” said Hannah.  

“We facilitate those final Zoom calls with family so they can say goodbye and it is heartbreaking. Despite the unease, moral distress and exhausting work, I believe that our team has risen above and beyond.”

Diane Maille is a public health nurse in the Cowichan Valley who provides breastfeeding support, newborn and postpartum assessments and immunizations to babies and children.

She is one of many nurses who pivoted from her regular position to provide vaccinations at one of Island Health’s COVID-19 immunization clinics. 

“It feels good knowing in a time of uncertainty that I can contribute in my role as a nurse to help my community stay safe,” she said. “The best part of being a nurse is knowing I have helped someone. Many people are anxious about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are always surprised when it’s over that they didn’t even feel a poke.” 

Joel Bailey is a nurse with Island Health’s nursing support services. He works with Nanaimo and Cowichan school staff who provide care for children with diabetes, seizure disorders and those who are fed via feeding tubes. He meets with families, creates care plans and trains school staff to assist children while attending school. 

“Even though we are busy, short staffed and are being pulled into other roles to help with the pandemic, I want people to know that we are still here to help their children,” he said.

Bailey was called on to help at COVID-19 testing centres and immunization clinics. He often brings his bagpipes to the clinics to play to people arriving for their vaccinations.

B.C. Indigenous Nurses Day was celebrated on May 10 as a part of National Nursing Week. It is meant to celebrate the ways in which Indigenous nurses contribute to the health and well-being of communities through the integrated use of traditional knowledge, healing practices and nursing education, according to Island Health. Registered nurse Grant Robinson is Island Health’s Indigenous health manager for the south island.

“It is extremely important for Indigenous people to be represented in the health care system,” he said. “Indigenous nurses help provide cultural safety and competency while providing care. I help facilitate these services in acute care and community in my role as the south island manager. I have an overwhelming sense of pride for my team and feel privileged to work with such a dynamic group of individuals.”

International Nurses Day and B.C. Indigenous Nurses Day are both part of the Canadian Nurses’ Association’s National Nursing Week. Its theme this year is “We Answer the Call.”

“Nurses are in every part of our health and care system. In hospitals, long-term care homes, public health units, clients’ homes, testing centres, vaccination clinics, undertaking cutting-edge COVID-19 research and leading pandemic response from boardroom to point of care, nurses unique contribution to the health and wellness of our region is ever-present,” reads a news release from Island Health.

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