Nurses elect new provincial leader, regional chair unchanged

Castlegar-based nurse Lorne Burkart retained his position as West Kootenay regional chair.

Voter turnout was stronger than past years for the B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU) leadership election that wrapped up Monday.

For the first time in the province, licensed practical nurses (LPN) joined forces as union partners with registered nurses (RN) in the BCNU election that ultimately discharged long-time president Debra McPherson from her role as leader.

BCNU conducted what’s called a “legal raid,” when the union opened its doors and welcomed about 9,000 new LPN members last year.

The nurses were wooed away from the Hospital Employees Union, leading to national and provincial trade union sanctions for raiding, but ultimately the Labour Relations Board upheld the move.

“It’s an exciting time and this is an historic election with new members having a voice across the province,” said Christine Sorensen, BCNU vice president.

“We are looking at issues that affect all our nurses and not just one segment of practice.”

Gayle Duteil, a Lower Mainland RN, won by a narrow margin of 119 votes over McPherson after almost 16 per cent of the 42,000-member union cast their ballots.

Castlegar-based nurse Lorne Burkart, retained his position as West Kootenay regional chair with 78 votes over candidate Tracy Mailey-Baur.

About 25 per cent of the area’s 800 nurses took part in the election process that involved three weeks of online and telephone voting.

Those numbers reflect a positive union of rural healthcare professionals, according to Sorensen.

“That is a good turnout in that region and great representative vote of that area,” she said. “It tells me integrating RNs and LPNs is working really well and our new members are getting engaged in their unions.”

Under new leadership, the union’s mandate remains steadfast to address nursing workloads so that patient care is not affected and standards of practice can be met to provide a quality level of care.

“In your area, cuts to rural services and downloading patient care to larger acute care facilities is an issue,” Sorensen told the Trail Times.

“And we’ve been told over and over that we need to solve the work load concerns,” she continued.

“The nurses aren’t saying their work is too hard, what they are saying is continual under-staffing and rural cuts compromise good quality and safe patient care.”

Election results were released April 1, the same day that Interior Health cut 24/7 care in Kaslo’s Victoria Community Health Centre emergency department.

The health facility now operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of statutory holidays.