Human resources in health services are limited, but we can all work on the big picture


Woman gets swab at one of the rapid test sites. Photo: Lisa Barrett

On December 28, during a much-anticipated press conference regarding back to school after Christmas, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s beloved and highly regarded Chief Medical Officer of Health, explained that schools would resume in-person classes on January 10. , but would no longer be part of the public health contract research efforts. Additionally, PCR testing – the gold standard for detecting the COVID-19 virus – will only be available to certain groups of people, teachers and students not on the list.

Social media quickly ignited comments denouncing the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s decisions as having left us all behind, destroying the legacy that set Nova Scotia apart during the pandemic – so significantly apart that our population has passed. to over a million people this year, and our housing market is literally on fire.

But as a nurse working in the system – and a critical political opponent of any misguided government announcement – I want to offer my support for this latest move and explain why: we just don’t have enough human resources to continue as we did. summer.

Contact tracing is not a robotic business. Public health nurses staff phone lines and trace networks of social interactions between people with COVID-19 HIV, making connections and following up to ensure that potentially exposed people are informed and isolated, and that the public is safe. These nurses are human beings and there are not enough of them to follow a number of more than 500 cases / day.

I work in reproductive health services, and during the pandemic I saw the negative impact of public health unfold almost exclusively on the management of COVID-19. Pregnant women do not receive education on childbirth and newborn care. Postpartum parents are not supported in the community to successfully breastfeed and manage depression and anxiety. Access to screening for sexually transmitted infections is limited. Etc.

It was harsh and harmful. This latest wave is worse than ever.

PCR testing is not a robotic enterprise. Nurses perform the tests and qualified laboratory technicians perform the analysis. Last spring, I lobbied for an appreciation campaign for said technicians – dubbed Loved Letters for Lab Workers – because I felt this contribution was relatively invisible and underappreciated. And now, in this fourth wave with Omicron, we don’t have enough humans to test and analyze the results for everyone. We don’t. We must prioritize.

A pale pink graphic that shows stationery and pens with love letters for lab workers in the center.

Nova Scotians are encouraged to support lab workers testing for COVID-19 through a “love letter” initiative. The province has the highest per capita screening rate in the country. Graphic: NSGEU

As a nurse who cares for a generally very healthy population – pregnant people who choose abortion or who deliver healthy babies – I see, for the first time in the pandemic, many colleagues unable to come to work because they are either COVID-19 positive or close contact, and required to isolate. It leaves the rest of us stressed, overworked, and anxious. So it doesn’t matter for now that Omicron is apparently less severe in terms of hospitalizations. Hospital nurses are always overworked and the system is seriously affected.

At this point in the pandemic, we need the public to do their part. Yes, it is asking more from an already large audience beyond what they can handle. But some of us are able to step up and step up we need to. For over a year, volunteers have made Nova Scotia’s asymptomatic screening program possible. Volunteers continue to staff several rapid test sites and assemble rapid antigen test kits that people can administer at home. We need the public to do these tests when they are worried, and certainly when they are symptomatic. We need them to report the results to public health themselves. And we need them to do their best to contact the trace on their own and ask those contacts to test themselves and go into hiding for public safety.

Not everyone is able to do this easily. Disability advocates have pointed out that rapid tests do not have a meaningful display option for the visually impaired, and that the Halifax Convention Center, the epicenter of the rapid test distribution, sits on a hill steep which makes the whole building inaccessible to people with reduced mobility. restrictions. For many people, frankly, it is not easy to make the trek in the city. Rural populations are not impressed that screening efforts are focused on Halifax. These criticisms must be recognized and dealt with urgently.

I wish more public funded workers could help out right now, but they are not. We need to train and retain many more nurses and health care workers, which is a complicated and essential undertaking. It is a medium term objective. In the long term, this province must reverse the economic inequity that separates those who have easily handled the pandemic and those who have not. In the short term, we need to come together to make the most of what we have.

Test yourself. Test your neighbor. Test their child. If you are in a high risk group, report positive results to Public Health. Talk to your contacts. Get all the vaccines and boosters offered. Pay attention to each other. Let’s get through it, so that we can continue to work on the big picture, together.

Martha Paynter is a registered nurse working in reproductive health care in Nova Scotia. She is a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University School of Nursing and President of Wellness Within: An Organization for Health and Justice.

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