Retraining nurses slowing COVID-19 vaccination efforts in N.S., says retired RN

·4 min read
Nova Scotia has administered more than half of its delivered vaccines.  (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Nova Scotia has administered more than half of its delivered vaccines. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A number of retired nurses have rejoined the workforce during the pandemic to help vaccinate Nova Scotians, but one retiree says extensive training is slowing the province's fight against COVID-19 at a crucial time.

In January, the Nova Scotia College of Nursing put out a call to retired nurses to sign up for free temporary licences — a program meant primarily to bolster the number of people administering vaccines.

"We have a very short period of time to get people vaccinated so that we don't get a third wave and more people die," said Paula Forgeron, a former registered nurse in Nova Scotia.

"I think some of the barriers are things that are bureaucratic and may need to be looked at as whether or not they're truly needed if we're going to win the war."

Mary Ellen Gurnham is one of 358 nurses who have been issued or are eligible for an emergency conditional licence.

Gurnham came out of retirement as a nurse to help manage a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
Gurnham came out of retirement as a nurse to help manage a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.(Jack Julian/CBC)

"I felt like I could contribute in an instrumental way, and it honestly feels like a privilege to be given this opportunity to come back and support this massive effort," said Gurnham, who worked as a registered nurse for 44 years before retiring in 2019.

"It takes a lot of people to get this done."

Hours of training

Gurnham will be managing a vaccination clinic in Dartmouth on Friday at 39 Micmac Blvd., which is next to the Chapters by Mic Mac Mall. She said coming out of retirement to help with vaccination clinics requires hours of retraining in vaccine basics, a vulnerable sector check and for some, recertification in CPR.

Forgeron worked as a clinical nurse for 28 years and is now the head of one of the largest nursing schools in Ontario. She's taking a sabbatical leave in Nova Scotia and considered volunteering at one of the vaccination clinics during her time in the province.

But when she looked into the process, Forgeron realized she would have to complete up to 12 hours of training in something she already feels comfortable doing.

Forgeron worked as a registered nurse for many years in Nova Scotia.
Forgeron worked as a registered nurse for many years in Nova Scotia.(CBC)

"What is the rationale behind certain elements of this, and is it truly necessary? Does it really serve the population appropriately?" she said. "Are we really a risk?"

Noella Whelan, the director of learning and educational resources, interprofessional practice and learning at Nova Scotia Health, is in charge of training for the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

Whelan said the extent of training depends on previous experience and can range from five hours to a day and a half of study.

Forgeron said she would need no more than two hours of refresher training. The need for vulnerable sector checks and up-to-date CPR certification is just slowing down Nova Scotia's ability to get vaccines into arms, she said.

"I don't want this to be sounding critical in that I don't appreciate the complexity, but I think we need to have the same get up and go as when this virus first started a year ago," she said. "And the thing that's going to make a game changer is getting those vaccines distributed. And we need to treat this a little differently."

About 2% fully vaccinated

Nova Scotia has administered more than half of its delivered vaccines. About two per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the CBC News Vaccine Tracker.

"I compliment every Nova Scotian who has really worked hard to ensure that the virus load is very low. I mean, that's something to be extremely proud of," Forgeron said.

"But this is the time to vaccinate — when it is low, not when it goes up. An 80-year-old lady died the other day at the [Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre]. Let's get those vaccines in those arms."

Whelan said Nova Scotia Health has already streamlined the process as much as possible, but there are safety requirements that must be adhered to during vaccination clinics.

"We need our teams to be prepared to provide safe, effective care so we will ensure that there are health-care providers in the clinic that have basic life-support training, while those nurses receive that certification," she said.

Whelan said the process may change as vaccination clinics continue.

"We probably will uncover a few other things that can be streamlined and made easier and simpler for individuals that want to help out with this massive endeavour," she said.

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