Union says nurses can’t do everything

President hopes members won’t be expected to serve evening snacks

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on January 31, 2014
NLNU President Debbie Forward

The Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union (NLNU) is digesting news that its members working with Eastern Health may be directed to prepare and serve snacks for hospital patients in between carrying out their regular duties.

Union president Debbie Forward told The Telegram Thursday she hasn’t been told by nurses that this is happening, but if it does it will be an ill-advised idea and a waste of nursing resources.

“I would be very discouraged if this employer is taking the position that because we don’t have staff to do this, that the default is now registered nurses have to prepare snacks for patients and give them out,” she said.

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Foward said the NLNU has done significant work in the last couple of years with employers and the government around the whole issue of non-nursing duties, and taking nurses away from patient care to prepare food would set the whole process back.

“We can’t look at registered nurses as being the catchall to do everything. Is it sound financial practice to have a registered nurse, who’s making $25-$30 an hour, to make snacks for people on a regular basis as part of their nursing care? I think that’s a very poor use of not only their time, but I would argue their knowledge, expertise and what they can provide to the health-care system from a registered nurse perspective,” she said.

It hasn’t been that long since the profession moved away from nurses handing out meal trays, said Forward, and to take them away from providing patient care would be a step backward.

As reported in The Telegram Wednesday, Eastern Health decided to stop providing bedside evening snacks to patients at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre in October 2013, saying it was “identified as an operational improvement initiative to save $97,000 and reduce 1.8 full-time equivalent employees through attrition,” according to an emailed statement from Eastern Health.

That move also brings the hospitals in line with other facilities under its authority.

Evening snacks will continue to be provided for patients on special or therapeutic diets who have been prescribed evening snacks by their clinical dietitians, and to those who ask.

“We also recognize that some patients may be hungry outside of regular meal hours. As such, we will continue to stock snacks, including juice, milk, tea, coffee, bread and crackers on the units for patients who request it,” said the statement.

Eastern Health said it will remind staff that snacks can be made available when people ask.

When Forward was asked what other staff are on duty with nurses in the evening, she said there weren’t any, and if the authority says it will remind staff, it probably means nurses.

 “For the most part it will be registered nurses. If that happened, the nurse would have to prioritize in terms of snacks and what other care they are required to provide to the patients they’re caring for,” Forward said.

“My members are struggling right now to provide nursing care and that would have to be their priority.”

She acknowledged that when a patient is admitted, often nurses will ask when the patient last ate, and if it has been a while, nurses will get them something.

But as for providing snacks on a regular basis, Forward said the union will have to wait and see if it becomes a concern.

“The employer is using all types of mechanisms to become more efficient — using the right person and making sure that person is doing the right job at the right time,” she said.

“But I would not see telling a registered nurse they are now responsible for snacks as being a very efficient use of the nursing resource. If that is happening we will work through it at the employer level and hopefully come to some form of resolution.”

In an emailed statement from Eastern Health Thursday, it said snacks are provided on the units by nurses and support staff prepare snacks and that practice will not change.

 “There is ample supply of snacks on our hospital units, and nursing staff best determine how that is made available to patients who request snacks. How, and the frequency of when snacks are offered to patients by nursing staff can vary from unit to unit. Most of the snacks that are stocked do not require much preparation,” it said.

 During a news conference on May 29, 2012, Eastern Health announced initiatives to improve its operations in order to balance the budget. Part of that is the elimination of 550 full-time equivalent positions to save about $43 million. The elimination of evening snacks is one of those initiatives.