Trail nurse running for B.C. union president

Paul Terpstra aims to highlight challenges at rural hospitals

  • Feb. 21, 2012 1:00 p.m.

A Trail registered nurse has set out on a race against long-time nurses’ union president Debra McPherson, starting off on his campaign trail this month.

Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital’s Paul Terpstra is lending his rural voice to the electoral process, with tele-voting opening up next month, because he believes in the democratic process and feels the British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is ready for a new leader.

“To me, I think it’s the voice of nurses on the frontline that need to determine the direction of the union and I also believe that the union’s strongest voice is a frontline member,” he said. “Our current president came out through the ranks and was a very empowered frontline nurse and her voice to me was quite credible and it’s still credible but I think the longer you’re in office, the more distance you put between yourself and being a frontline nurse.”

If elected, Terpstra hopes to sway some of the union’s focus toward challenges rural nurses face, including on call work, threats to surgical services and skill-mix challenges.

“When wards are getting more full than capacity, nurses are having a difficult time getting more help to deal with that patient load,” he said. “What that means to people is that usually more mistakes happen, usually people stay in the hospital for longer periods of time, usually they end up being sicker as opposed to getting better so you really have to have that right staffing mix.”

Terpstra said the temporary shutdown of Castlegar’s emergency room this month points to an underlining poor human resources plan but also the difficulty of attracting professionals to a region that relies heavily on casual and on-call coverage.

“We could have a strong pool if you short-circuit the sort of casualization of the nursing force and actually offer full-time jobs,” he said.

While McPherson has led the union since 2000, Terpstra is fairly new to the political realm.

Prior to setting his 10-year career in motion, with seven years and counting in the Trail hospital, he acted as western regional director and conference director for the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association.

He is hopeful his campaign will encourage fellow nurses to cast a vote, a simple procedure that still manages to attract only about 5,000 of the over 30,000 members.

“My campaign is virtually to try to inspire nurses enough to use their voice to choose the direction of the union and I think as more frontline nurses get involved, their message gets stronger,” he said.

“I’m ready to take on a new challenge because I really believe that the strength of our voice belongs at the bottom. We need a grassroots change and I believe the messenger has to match our message in the union.”

The BCNU election for president and vice president opens by phone (1877-313-2121) between 9 a.m. March 19 to noon April 5.

To learn more about Terpstra, visit

For more on the other candidates, too, check out

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