Nurses sound alarm on social media, as health officials call for calm and accuracy

Nurses sound alarm on social media, as health officials call for calm and accuracy

A growing chorus of British Columbian nurses are taking to social media to warn people to stay home, but health officials say while the calls are well-intentioned, not all claims are accurate and can stoke fear. 

In numerous social media posts, nurses beg people to stay home, others urge anybody with access to masks, gloves or gowns, to email their health authority. Nurses say they need people to take the coronavirus threat more seriously.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix reassured the public Monday, saying medical supply shortages were not, as yet, a concern. They both also underscored the need to stay home to protect health-care workers as the number of novel coronavirus cases in the province hit 472 on Monday. Thirteen people have died.

Health officials say hunkering down at home is the best action to stop the pathogen's spread so it doesn't spike and overwhelm health-care systems.

A call to action

On Saturday, Jenny O'Mahoney went live on Facebook and urged watchers in an emotional plea, to "stay home." O'Mahoney, a Vancouver nurse on maternity leave, says  what she's hearing from colleagues who are at Vancouver General Hospital has her very concerned.

"There is a very real chance that I will be called back from my maternity leave — and then I need to decide whether it's safe for me to come home to my children. I have friends sleeping in their garages because they don't want to go home," said O'Mahoney in the live feed on March 21 shared thousands of times.

"I'm actually shaking ... I'm begging you to stay home."

Jenny O'Mahony/Facebook

Another woman, who identified herself as a nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital, also sounded an alert.

"We are seeing a lot of people walk through these doors with COVID-19 symptoms," the woman says. "We have a lot of people in critical care currently at the hospital. Our wards are getting full."

Facebook

'Doesn't reflect the situation accurately'

But Dixon Tam, a spokesperson for Fraser Health told CBC that the Surrey Memorial nurse's call to action — though well-intentioned —was inaccurate and misinformed.

Tam said emergency room visits at the hospital are at an "all-time low" in the past five years, adding the hospital is currently at 90 per cent occupancy.

"It's an unfortunate video that doesn't reflect the situation accurately," he wrote in an email.

"We regret that she felt she needed to share this, as it has negative consequences by creating fear in the communities and she shared information without confirming her data."

When should you go to the hospital and other questions answered here:

Christine Sorensen, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union, said these nurses are sharing concerns currently shared by thousands of nurses across the province — but emphasized the need for information shared on social media to be accurate.

"I'm asking every one of our members at this time to refrain from posting public messages of this nature, even if they are intended to reinforce the message of the public health officer," Sorensen said. 

Sorensen said nurses and other health-care workers have been working with the Ministry of Health to make sure hospitals have enough space when needed.

"My message to all nurses is this: please focus on your patients and providing the best quality patient care you can and let the provincial health officer focus on the message to the public."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.