By: John Boldrick
Sheena Rykers flops down on her couch after a long day at the office, still sporting the scrubs that have become her uniform.
It was another long day for Rykers. Another day that went beyond her normal hours, forcing her to work overtime. For Rykers, the normal eight hours days at Westgate Lodge (a long term care facility for seniors) have become a thing of the past.
“Depending on the day, you can be up to an hour or more late from work,” she said.
Such is the life of a nurse these days. A recent study from the United States outlines the downside of nursing hours. The study mentions that nurses who often work over 10 hours are more than twice as likely to become dissatisfied and burnt-out with their jobs.
Tired nurses can lead to dissatisfied patients, said the study. It was reported that nurses didn’t communicate as well and that patients didn’t receive the care they need. Seven of 10 patients also had significantly worse outcomes when the nurses were overworked.
Linda Silas is the President Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, which represents over 200,000 nurses working in hospitals, communities and long term care facilities across the county. She said Rykers isn’t alone in working overtime. Canadian nurses work close to 20 million hours of overtime per year.
Silas blames the amount of overtime on short staffing.
“If you look at any sector, either the hospital or long term care facility, there’s not enough staff and then there’s also an overcapacity, which means patients are placed in hallways because there’s not enough beds,” she said.
Rykers agrees with the study. She often has to go into work early, so that she can fit in all of her daily duties and not have to be at work longer than her schedule says, she said.
“A lot of the time we come in early to get report so we can actually try to be on time getting out when we leave,” she says.
That’s before work starts. Luckily for Rykers, she is one of the quicker employees at using the computer, so that cuts down on time spent at work at the end of the day. Other nurses aren’t so lucky.
The amount of overtime a nurse works can be directly affected by the number of patients. Silas said that adding patients to nurses who already have their hands full can be dangerous.
“When nurses don’t have the time to access, don’t have time to do proper treatment or proper education, discharge planning it’s a big cost to patients and their families but it’s a big cost to the system itself,” she said.
The study also suggests that the number of consecutive hours worked should be restricted as a way to keep nurses fresh. However with the option to pick-up a double shift, thus earning more money, it’s tempting for nurses to push themselves as far as they can. Rykers is no different.
“(I’ll) probably pick up an extra shift once a week, or more, usually two or three times if not full time,” she said.
Rykers does get some time off though. Currently, she is only a temporary full time worker, taking over for someone on maternity leave. Part time, or temporary full time employees get two weeks vacation time every year.
Rykers said that while the time off may be sufficient, the wear and tear caused by her job leaves little free time for her.
“I wish I could fit more time into my schedule so I didn’t feel like sleeping all the time,” said Rykers.
Rykers has considered filing a complaint before. She has thought about going to either the Ontario Nurses’ Association or the College of Nurses of Ontario .
The only thing stopping Rykers is the fact that she doesn’t feel like she has the support of anyone else, being younger. She also does not know the process in which complaints are filed.
Work hours are a major complaint around nursing contract negotiations. Silas says that workload and overtime is the number one issue at bargaining tables throughout the country.
At least for the time being, Rykers still goes to work as scheduled. She still figures to have to work late on most occasions and plans accordingly. She realizes that with a job like hers, she has to make additional time for all of the tasks involved at her work. She stays late and does the job as well as she can, but still comes away feeling like there is more to be accomplished.
“You try your best but that’s all you can do and sometimes you do leave at the end of the day feeling like ‘I wish I could have done more,’ ” she said.