Lessons to learn

Danette Dooley
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In the midst of nursing negotiations, a veteran shares her experience, and warns against devaluing it

Kari Brown has been a street nurse in Vancouver, an emergency room nurse in St. John's, a workshop leader at the British Columbia Correctional Centre for Women and at Naomi Centre in St. John's.

A graduate of Memorial University's School of Nursing class of 1992, she's also worked as a women's health nurse at the St. John's Morgentaler clinic, as an outreach research nurse for the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with the Newfoundland Public Health Laboratory.

Nurse Kari Brown has practised her profession in hospitals as well as in the community. The current dispute between the nurses and the provincial government may look like it's about money, but she says it is not: it's about quality of care. "We are nurses

Kari Brown has been a street nurse in Vancouver, an emergency room nurse in St. John's, a workshop leader at the British Columbia Correctional Centre for Women and at Naomi Centre in St. John's.

A graduate of Memorial University's School of Nursing class of 1992, she's also worked as a women's health nurse at the St. John's Morgentaler clinic, as an outreach research nurse for the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with the Newfoundland Public Health Laboratory.

She has 16 years of nursing experience, but under the proposed nurses' collective agreement, she would be paid the same as a new graduate.

The problem is, she says, that Eastern Health only credits nurses with half-time if their work experience was gained outside this province.

"Some of the most creative and rewarding work I have done as a nurse has been outside of Eastern Health," Brown says.

"I worked just under four years in British Columbia. They counted it as just under two years and put me at Step 1. ... How can this be fair? It is very disheartening."

Brown says the provincial government's offer to remove the first two steps on the nurses' salary scale doesn't move nurses with more seniority up two steps, and so she'll be paid the same as a nurse just beginning his or her career.

Brown has been working as a casual nurse with Eastern Health for over a decade and currently works in the hospital's specialty clinics.

Since she was hired, none of her work in this province outside Eastern Health (as a community nurse) has counted as nursing hours towards her seniority.

"I do that work because I love it. But I am penalized for it. It is very frustrating," Brown says.

A spokeswoman for Eastern Health says seniority for community nursing is credited only when the nursing experience is through an Eastern Health employer.

"If for example, it is a non-profit agency - that cannot count towards seniority with Eastern Health," Deborah Collins, the organization's manager of media relations, said via e-mail.

Brown has suggestions about how the government, nurses and employers could work together to improve the system.

Recognizing veteran nurses is one idea; listening to front-line workers is another.

"We are in the trenches. We are nurses, doctors, technicians and support staff, working as a skeleton crew, doing the impossible, daily."

Working in an emergency room such as at the Health Sciences Centre, she says, means working without breaks and without time off.

Nurses are also denied holiday time, Brown says.

"We are ordered back to work, work overtime, work around the clock, night and day. Even a 12-hour shift isn't enough. We are being asked to work an extra, four, eight or 12 hours after, because there are not staff to replace us."

Cathy Burke is the director of emergency and ambulatory care at the Health Sciences Centre. She said while she can't address Brown's concerns specifically, there are occasions when a nurse is expected to work through a break or is asked to stay beyond the end of a shift.

"That is not the preferred option, but it could happen when it is extraordinarily busy or there is an unanticipated vacancy in the next shift and every other avenue to provide coverage has been exhausted," Burke said via e-mail.

She added that Eastern Health makes every effort to accommodate vacation requests, especially during prime vacation time between May and October.

Brown says one of the most frustrating things about emergency room nursing is when a nurse is put in a position where she can't safely and effectively provide quality care. That's why nurses leave the profession and the province, she says.

"Who wants to spend a 12-hour shift apologizing? Apologizing for cancellations, apologizing for wait times, apologizing because you only have two hands and have an unsafe workload, apologizing because the number of people who need care exceeds the number of people who are trained and ready to take care of them."

Brown says the health-care system is in crisis, but it doesn't need to be that way.

"Safety shouldn't be the standard, it should be the minimum," she says. "Our job satisfaction depends on the ability to provide excellence in care. ... What will keep us here is our ability to say at the end of the shift that those who needed care got the best they could in a timely fashion."

In the wake of the Cameron inquiry, Brown says the government has to realize that while recruiting new staff is essential, it isn't enough.

"We need our senior staff to stay here and train them. Senior staff show new recruits how a department runs, how to use its equipment, and how and where to find the tools they need to work well," she says.

"They have the experience to anticipate a problem before it happens and prevent it. They have seen, through years of practice, most of what we do already."

Not having enough senior staff affects all hospital departments, Brown says.

"Let's learn this lesson before lives are lost."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: British Columbia Correctional Centre for Women, Naomi Centre, School of Nursing Public Health Agency of Canada Newfoundland Public Health Laboratory Health Sciences Centre Brown's

Geographic location: St. John's, Vancouver, British Columbia

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Recent comments

  • noInsentiveHere
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    And what about people who work in Hospital Support? Nurses now have umpteen steps in their payscale. Which guarantees them an annual pay increase for umpteen years. A friend of mine in Hospital Support has three steps in her contract. She's been working there for 8 years. No increase in 5 years. Fair? Hell no.

  • G F
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Maby ms dooley can speak to Henry Morgentaler and he could make up the short fall,

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Thats exactly my issue. I have been a ICU nurse now for over 10 years and I want to go home to work. But to what? So those 10 years of amazing experiences can be compared to a new nurse just starting his or her career. I'd be paid a mere fraction of what my classmates are getting paid who deicided to stay in Newfoundland some 10 years ago. It essentially means my choice to leave Newfoundland to find work many years ago ( There were no nursing jobs available in 1999) will come back to haunt me and I will esentially be penalized for leaving. Tell me how that recruits experienced nurses? To me its a slap in my face and shows no respect to me and what I have accomplished over the years as an experienced RN who has so much to offer.

  • glenn
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    exactly the reason i'm not coming home. Since graduating from MUN in 1992, I've spent the last 17 years nursing, working in ER's, specialty icu's, and the last half-dozen as an acute-care hospitalist nurse practitioner, and the thought of coming home come home and getting paid at the low end of the scale is absolutely insane. In essence, what's being presented is that, you are a warm body to fill a gap, nothing more. Everyone wants the nurse with compassion, the nurse with great clinical expertise to take the best care of them, but the employer wants the low end of the pay scale. I wish I could come back home. But, you know, with the heads of healthcare in NL stumbling around, clearly with no idea of how to run the place, I don't know that it would be a good move. Recruitment and retention is nothing more than lip service

  • apples
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    In many cases, time worked in a specific field has nothing to do with how qualified a person is. The fact that someone who works away only gets credit for half their time is wrong. In reality they should get credit for how qualified they are - which could be 1/4 time or 1.5 time.

    The same is true for the nurse who are in NL. Unfortunately, once you get in the system your time starts ticking and no matter how crappy a nurse you are you still get credit for your time.

    Nurses need to be paid based on their qualifications not on time served. Maybe then the crappy nurses will realize how crappy they really are and the good nurses will get paid what they should have been paid all along.

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    That's right folks, if you are a nurse and are there for 2 years, when the new scale comes in you are still at the bottom.

  • NLDER IN NWT
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    To Amazed from NL: This type of thing do not only happen in Nursing, seems it is the norm in NL. I am a Journeyman Warehouse/Parts technician with over 15 years of experience. I just recently had two interviews back home, one employer offered me the position at a starting salary of $25,000/year (almost $60,000 less then my salary now; do the math.) and the other employer said that could not afford my experience. Why would I want to return home for that. I fully understand what the nurses are saying: 5,10,15 years experience should be paid based on their skills and knowledge that they bring in. It is time for employers in NL and the Gov for that matter to realize that the biggest assets to their business/organization are there employees.

  • Amazed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    noInsentiveHere;

    Your friend should talk to their union, cause it isn't the nurse's union. Your comment has no bearing on the article.

    Eastern Health will hire you from away based on your resume, then pay you for half of what they read on it. It's a joke.

  • noInsentiveHere
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    And what about people who work in Hospital Support? Nurses now have umpteen steps in their payscale. Which guarantees them an annual pay increase for umpteen years. A friend of mine in Hospital Support has three steps in her contract. She's been working there for 8 years. No increase in 5 years. Fair? Hell no.

  • G F
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Maby ms dooley can speak to Henry Morgentaler and he could make up the short fall,

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Thats exactly my issue. I have been a ICU nurse now for over 10 years and I want to go home to work. But to what? So those 10 years of amazing experiences can be compared to a new nurse just starting his or her career. I'd be paid a mere fraction of what my classmates are getting paid who deicided to stay in Newfoundland some 10 years ago. It essentially means my choice to leave Newfoundland to find work many years ago ( There were no nursing jobs available in 1999) will come back to haunt me and I will esentially be penalized for leaving. Tell me how that recruits experienced nurses? To me its a slap in my face and shows no respect to me and what I have accomplished over the years as an experienced RN who has so much to offer.

  • glenn
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    exactly the reason i'm not coming home. Since graduating from MUN in 1992, I've spent the last 17 years nursing, working in ER's, specialty icu's, and the last half-dozen as an acute-care hospitalist nurse practitioner, and the thought of coming home come home and getting paid at the low end of the scale is absolutely insane. In essence, what's being presented is that, you are a warm body to fill a gap, nothing more. Everyone wants the nurse with compassion, the nurse with great clinical expertise to take the best care of them, but the employer wants the low end of the pay scale. I wish I could come back home. But, you know, with the heads of healthcare in NL stumbling around, clearly with no idea of how to run the place, I don't know that it would be a good move. Recruitment and retention is nothing more than lip service

  • apples
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    In many cases, time worked in a specific field has nothing to do with how qualified a person is. The fact that someone who works away only gets credit for half their time is wrong. In reality they should get credit for how qualified they are - which could be 1/4 time or 1.5 time.

    The same is true for the nurse who are in NL. Unfortunately, once you get in the system your time starts ticking and no matter how crappy a nurse you are you still get credit for your time.

    Nurses need to be paid based on their qualifications not on time served. Maybe then the crappy nurses will realize how crappy they really are and the good nurses will get paid what they should have been paid all along.

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    That's right folks, if you are a nurse and are there for 2 years, when the new scale comes in you are still at the bottom.

  • NLDER IN NWT
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    To Amazed from NL: This type of thing do not only happen in Nursing, seems it is the norm in NL. I am a Journeyman Warehouse/Parts technician with over 15 years of experience. I just recently had two interviews back home, one employer offered me the position at a starting salary of $25,000/year (almost $60,000 less then my salary now; do the math.) and the other employer said that could not afford my experience. Why would I want to return home for that. I fully understand what the nurses are saying: 5,10,15 years experience should be paid based on their skills and knowledge that they bring in. It is time for employers in NL and the Gov for that matter to realize that the biggest assets to their business/organization are there employees.

  • Amazed
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    noInsentiveHere;

    Your friend should talk to their union, cause it isn't the nurse's union. Your comment has no bearing on the article.

    Eastern Health will hire you from away based on your resume, then pay you for half of what they read on it. It's a joke.