Travelling NL nurses help fill a health-care void and enrich their souls at same time – Saltwire

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Temporary placements in Labrador provide needed care in short-staffed community clinics
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — As a busy registered nurse working full-time at the Bonavista Peninsula Health Centre in Bonavista, you’d think when vacation time comes around Luke Redmond would want to go somewhere relaxing, maybe a warm beach in the sunny south.
Redmond, however, turns his thoughts toward the North — and more nursing.
Most recently, he spent three weeks of his vacation time at the health clinic in Makkovik, Labrador, and last year he spent a month at the clinic in Hopedale.
Redmond is a part-time travelling nurse holding a casual nursing position with Labrador-Grenfell Health, in addition to his full-time job with Eastern Health.


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Travel nursing is one of the strategies used by health authorities in the province, across Canada and around the world to help fill a nursing void in a number of communities, or to relieve hard-working full-time staff in those communities.
Redmond said it’s an opportunity to expand his nursing skills and experience different cultures, while helping to fill a health-care need.
“Travel nursing experience kind of gives you that opportunity to challenge yourself a bit more, explore some different things and work to a new scope,” Redmond said.
“Especially with Labrador-Grenfell, because you are working in nursing stations without a physician onsite, which is different than what I’m used to, and what most types of nursing are used to. It’s a different challenge, and the other thing is financial. Travelling nurses are generally fairly well compensated, so it’s nice for that extra income.
“Oftentimes, places that are utilizing travel nurses are more short-staffed than most. I think travel nursing is probably a last resort for any employer. A big rewarding part of it for me is going in and being able to provide a service to communities where they may not have as readily accessible health care because they are dealing with short staffing. Even being able to help one person — obviously you are seeing more than one person — but knowing you made a difference to one person or someone that wasn’t able to readily access health care and you were able to make some sort of change that bettered their life, I think that’s one of the biggest rewards of it.”

The province’s Registered Nurses Union (RNU) is working with the provincial government to finalize a pilot project for a provincial travel team.
“This team would include registered nurses and nurse practitioners who would travel to areas of the province experiencing significant staffing shortages to provide short-term locum-type relief,” a statement from the union reads. “A working group made up of representatives from the RNU, the provincial government and regional health authorities is working to finalize the details.”
Redmond notes the experience for a travelling nurse goes way beyond the walls of the clinic.
He caught his first Arctic char, went snowmobiling and snowshoeing on magnificent land, and got to know strong, kind and resilient people.
“I look forward to it,” Redmond said. “To experience different cultures and kind of give back to communities that are frequently under-serviced. They are so welcoming and supportive, and have a strong connection to family. In Hopedale, I went out on a snowmobile for the whole day and went fishing, had a boil-up out on the land. I cooked up the Arctic char I caught that night with my co-workers.
“In Makkovik, I’d strap on my snowshoes and walk around the community. I’d visit the community centres, see the local art. It’s just amazing. Sometimes while snowshoeing I’d just sit down for awhile and look out over the mountains and think about how lucky I am to experience this part of the world that most people won’t ever experience. You make connections with the people. They love their way of life and their land, and really have no desire to leave, and it’s so refreshing to see that.”

Pressures on staffing in the health-care system are being experienced worldwide. Redmond said having full-time staff at clinics is the best option, but when that’s not possible, travel nursing helps fill the gap.
“Staff shortages have been exacerbated by COVID. It’s been an exhausting time for people in general,” he said. “So, I think there’s benefits to both. … There’s something to be said for having full-time staff who are familiar with the community, that trusting face to the community. It would be extremely difficult if you went to a community in northern Labrador and had only travelling nurses there. In the interim, travelling nurses fill that need and provides relief for the staff who need a break.”
According to its website, Labrador-Grenfell Health provides health-care and community services to a population of approximately 36,000 spread across a large and complex geography. The needs of small, multi-generational and tight-knit communities are provided by 22 facilities, including hospitals, community health centres, community clinics and long-term care facilities.
In the Indigenous communities, Labrador-Grenfell Health partners with the Nunatsiavut Department of Health and Social Development, Innu Band Council, NunatuKavut Community Council, Health Canada and private practitioners in delivering community health programs.
“It would be extremely difficult if you went to a community in northern Labrador and had only travelling nurses there. In the interim, travelling nurses fill that need and provides relief for the staff who need a break.” — Luke Redmond
Redmond said at the health centre in Bonavista — as with most centres of its size — there are resource shortages compared to the larger centres, but they still always have a physician on site and resources such as lab services and paramedics.
In nursing stations in Labrador, however, depending on the community needs, the clinics hold from one to six nurses, a clerical person and a maintenance person.
“There’s always a physician in Goose Bay on call for you, but you have an expanded scope, so we can work more independently,” Redmond said. “You don’t have an X-ray and no ability to run your labs up there. It makes you much more aware of your health assessment skills and going back to doing those hands-on assessments and kind of coming up with a potential diagnosis based on that, and there’s the travel, if someone’s critical enough they have the be transported outside the community.
“It brings you to that extra step … deciding on treatment yourself based on your guidelines and implementing that treatment and followup care. It goes beyond what we are usually used to, but it’s a good challenge to kind of do that as well.”

Without paramedics, the nurses also have to brush up on their snowmobile skills.
“There’s a snowmobile for the nurses and a komatic (sled) to go to the person’s house and bring them in yourself if that’s needed,” Redmond said. “Most times you’d take a second person with you who is more familiar with the community. One of the challenges is if someone is sick enough that you have to go out on snowmobile and get them, you have to know where they live. In many clinics they have a map that shows the houses and who lives in them. There’s no cell service, so you can’t punch in the location on Google maps, but you do have a satellite phone with you.”
Redmond says he has had nothing but a positive experience with travel nursing, and great relationships with the communities and the people.
“You do form bonds with patients, especially patients you see a few times when you are there,” he said. “Some will say, “I wish you’d stay,’ or, ‘Come back soon.’ You get positive feedback, for sure.
“The big part about travel nursing, especially northern travel nursing, is it really makes you have a lot of respect for the other members of your interdisciplinary team. I guess when you kind of try to take on all the roles, when you come back you respect your other colleagues that much more in the roles they play. It brings into perspective the roles other people play on your team.
“The other benefit when you are moving around from clinic to clinic is that you see what works in some places, and it helps bring fresh perspectives to your own workplace and other workplaces that you go to. You see things that work well, and things that don’t work well. It also makes you realize how fortunate you are. Even in Bonavista, we are a smaller site, it makes you realize how fortunate we are to have the resources we do, even though you frequently find yourself complaining that we don’t have the resources a larger centre would have. But when you go even smaller than Bonavista, it kind of puts things in perspective that we do have things other people aren’t as fortunate to have.”
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