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Cuts to nursing program impact special needs kids

East Kootenay children with special needs may not be getting the attention they need after cuts to a nursing program based in Cranbrook.

According to Patt Shuttleworth, chair of the B.C. Nurses Union, East Kootenay region, a full-time nurse retired in May as the lone coordinator of the Nursing Support Services program for the region, overseen by Interior Health Authority. She was replaced by a part-time nurse working half of those hours.

"The senior experienced nurse with 17 years of on-the-job and specialty paediatric training retired from the position and the position was then reduced to a 0.5 position which was accepted by a new grad," explained Shuttleworth.

The Nursing Support Services program covers about 30 children throughout the East Kootenay, from Golden to Cranbrook and Creston to Sparwood.

"We really are concerned that those children will not get their assessments in time for school in the fall, and their caregivers won't get timely education for treatments and thus timely interventions will not happen," said Shuttleworth.

According to Interior Health, children from birth to age 18 with special needs can access the program for nursing care. Nurses provide information and consultation about health issues relating to the special need, create a plan for community care, train alternate caregivers, and can provide an at-home assessment of medical and respite benefits.

"The nurse must assess the children's needs, develop care plans and assist families and care providers to learn how to implement the required care. Following this the school teachers need to be assisted with the same learning," explained Shuttleworth.

"Where the children are infants, assistance with special needs breastfeeding is often required and due to the cut of the only lactation consultant in the East Kootenay there is no longer a resource for this much-needed and very important skill."

Now, the part-time nurse works alone, with her manager based in Kelowna.

“The management person is supposed to be part of the team that does the work, but she’s based out of Kelowna, so it’s highly unlikely that she’s going to be on the ground here,” said Shuttleworth.

The workload was almost too much for the full-time nurse, who needed every minute of her hours to provide care for the children, Shuttleworth said. She doesn’t know how the part-time nurse will manage.

“There is just too much work for the nursing time allotted and nurses are concerned that these children will not be receiving the care they need,” she said.

But Linda Basran, Director of Interior Health East, Community Integration Health Services, said that the nurse in the Nursing Support Services program is not a hands-on caregiver but a coordinator.

“There are people who are delivering the care; this is a coordinating role,” said Basran. “She would coordinate what the direct caregivers are doing. She would teach or delegate care to the caregivers, and that would be individual to each client.”

The program is a contract with Interior Health by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Basran said that for a long time, the program in the West Kootenay was coordinated by a part-time nurse, while the East Kootenay had a full-time registered nurse.

“So when we took a look at being equitable, and we knew we had a natural attrition, it was important that we put both sides equally,” said Basran.

“The timing was around the retirement of the incumbent; we did not lay anyone off.

“But when any job becomes available, we always look at what makes the most sense for the future.”

Basran said that since the part-time nurse is handling the work load in the West Kootenay, she is confident that the same will be true in the East.

“But we will continue to monitor the situation,” she said, adding that Interior Health will take remedial measures if the situation is not working.

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