Christine Sorensen wants to make sure all nurses are supported should they contract COVID-19 and become unable to work.
The head of the BC Nurses Union wants WorksafeBC to immediately put COVID-19 on the list of occupational diseases that are presumed to have been contracted by nurses in the work place, which would entitle them to faster compensation.
Sorensen said full- and part-time nurses can build up sick days, but for nurses on the casual list or nurses just starting their careers, they do not have the sick time banked, meaning they would have to take unpaid leave until they recover from the virus.
“Not every nurse has a sick bank,” said Sorensen, adding nurses that have accumulated a sick bank may have had to take those days for other ailments. “Each nurses’ situation is different so we have to look at each nurses’ case. Our role is to ensure all nurses who get COVID-19 are supported.”
Sorensen said there are numerous statistics showing a disproportionately high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among nurses.
During the early days of the pandemic, nurses, like many people, were returning from travelling and could have contracted the virus away from the job.
But since travel restrictions were put in place and social distancing and hygiene protocols were established, the odds are much greater that the virus was contracted on the job.
Sorensen equates the situation to firefighters where there are a number of occupational exposures that are presumed to have happened in the work place.
“They may have those same exposures in the community, but because the likelihood of exposure at work is so much greater than the possible exposure in the community, it is presumed to have occurred at work,” she said. “It’s the same for nurses. This is what we are asking for. The likelihood that they are having exposure in the workplace is so much greater than outside the workplace.”
Sorensen said she is concerned nurses who have tested positive for COVID are having to return to work before they are 100 per cent better.
Even though they are no longer a risk to infect others, there can be long-lasting effects from the virus and delays in much-needed compensation could force a nurse to return to work before they should.
The BCNU has initiated a campaign asking the public to send a letter to provincial officials asking for COVID-19 to be immediately placed on the list of occupational diseases that are presumed to have been contracted by nurses in the work place.
A copy of the electronic letter can be found here.