Special to the Leader Post - Tracy Zambory, SUN President.
When people think of registered nurses, words like "caring" and "compassion" are often the first things that come to mind. There is no arguing there are those innate and unique qualities that cannot be taught, but what many people forget or are unaware of is that registered nursing is also a science.
The knowledge and skills registered nurses possess have been acquired through extensive education and clinical experience, and truly do make the difference in life or death situations. The fact is, research shows registered nurses save lives.
This statement may sound overly simplistic, but, in reality, it sums up a wealth of conclusive evidence linking registered nurses with better patient care and improved outcomes. Greater registered nurse staffing is associated with shorter hospital stays, a decreased risk of hospital-acquired infections and complications, and reduced hospital death rates.
All the evidence points to Saskatchewan's registered nursing workforce being a foundational pillar of our health care system and critical to ensuring our province's patients and their families are receiving the safest, highest quality of care possible. It's clear that if we start to erode the numbers of frontline registered nurses in spite of this evidence we begin to weaken our health care system at its very foundation and in the long run, patients will suffer.
Unfortunately, however, this is a trend we are starting to see as regional health authorities scramble to meet growing budgetary pressures.
There is no question that we are being forced to do more with less. Meeting the demands of our growing and aging population, who have increasingly complex medical needs requiring more of the system and those who work in it, has become a constant challenge. We certainly are at risk of falling behind, and in many respects we already have.
Transformation is not optional and, in fact, in Saskatchewan, our health care system has almost become synonymous with the term. Change is a good thing, as long we always look at the "big picture" and make decisions that are both economically viable and sustainable. And, most importantly, patient-and family-centred care must always take precedence over the bottom line.
There is no single answer to address these challenges, but one thing is certain, our province's registered nursing workforce must be at the forefront of change. It is one of Saskatchewan's greatest health care resources and cannot be lost or replaced in the midst of system-wide transformation.
A substantial body of evidence points to the need for a long-term strategy to recruit and retain a healthy registered nurse workforce in every corner of the province. This will ensure we are delivering the highest standards of patient care. Some may think such a strategy is unsustainable, and equate increased registered nurse staffing with soaring costs, but research is consistently telling us the contrary.
In fact, a higher proportion of registered nurses is arguably the best way to bend the cost curve and run a safe and effective health care system.
Appropriate registered nurse staffing can prevent adverse events that would prolong a patient's hospital stay. It would also ease excessive workload pressures, allowing registered nurses to practice to their full scope of knowledge and expertise, resulting in better, safer care and ultimately lower patient resource consumption.
What this all means in the long-run is medical cost savings, improved productivity, and lives saved.
In our province, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) represents almost 9,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and Registered Nurse (Nurse Practitioners). The union plays an important role in Saskatchewan's health care system, giving registered nurses a greater voice in the workplace so they can confidently be a voice for the patients and families they care for.
SUN promotes higher quality patient care by advocating for better working conditions and registered nurse staffing levels that are in line with what research points to as safest for patients. Registered nurses rely on the work their union performs on their behalf - it empowers them to work to their full potential and to realize their passion for helping others, which, at the end of the day, is the sole reason they do what they do. Registered nurses wouldn't settle for anything less and neither should the people of Saskatchewan.