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Psych nurse pink slips are "health policy by calculator" to union president

Laying off 12 registered psychiatric nurses at Fraser Health Authority (FHA) geriatric care facilities will remove the lynch pin of patient health, says Reid Johnson, president of the Health Sciences Association of British Columbia (HSABC).

“You eliminate that position from a facility, you eliminate a degree of expertise that is absolutely necessary for the health and well being of the seniors that live in that facility,” Johnson told the Tyee.

A dozen RPNs are among the 68 registered nurses (RN) to be let go by the FHA in an effort to standardize long-term care. The FHA wants to enhance direct care time by employing a new long term care model that would emphasize multi-disciplinary teams composed of registered nurses and an increased number of licensed practical nurses and residential care aides.

With 900 hours of training in psychiatry and mental health, RPNs play a vital role in long term care facilities where conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia affect many patients, says Johnson. RPNs give medication and assess patients, but they also plan family care and integrate recreation and music therapy programming that can improve holistic health, according to Johnson.

He’s concerned that the level of care in long term care facilities will degrade if these responsibilities passed off to less qualified, lower-paid residential care aides with less expertise and than RPNs.

“It’s health policy by calculator,” said Johnson.

“Absolutely not,” Heather Cook, executive director of residential care and assisted living for the FHA, told the Tyee in response to Johnson’s assertion during a phone interview.

“I’m a nurse myself, I’ve worked in this sector for a long time. This is about increasing the amount of care and it’s about building a nursing team that works as a team, with each member of that team working to their full skill set.”

Cook emphasized that in place of the RN and RPN layoffs, over 85 licensed practical nurses (LPN) and 33 residential care aides will be hired on to join the teams at affected facilities. RNs and RPNs make about the same yearly salary, but LPNs and residential care aides do make less, Cook acknowledged.

This year, $12 million will be spent to improve the hours of care being provided in the long term care sector, with an additional $8 million coming by April next year, Cook told the Tyee.

Currently, 2.44 direct care hours are being provided at long term care sites, a number that Cook hopes to increase to 3.36 once the new care model is put into place.

The new long term care model is similar to models in other provinces and was based on an international literature research done over two years ago to examine the skill sets needed to provide care in long term care facilities, according to Cook.

Meanwhile, the HSABC, one of four unions that represent RPNs in B.C., has been bargaining for a labour adjustment plan for affected RPNS that includes early retirement incentives, job fairs and enhancement to the displacement process, according to an Oct. 5 press release. The release claims that 100 nurses will lose their jobs in the lay offs, compared to Cook's count of 68.

Justin Langille reports on the landscape of work for The Tyee.

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