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Central Newfoundland’s licensed practical nurses reach out to the community with high-energy public campaign

Being a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is about more than serving meals and checking temperatures. It’s about being a sympathetic listener, providing patients with emotional support and giving comfort to patients and their families at a time of need.

And few people understand this better than Sharon Goulding, a member of CUPE 990 and an LPN who has been caring for the elderly at the Carmelite Nursing Home in Grand Falls-Windsor for 22 years.

“When you help someone get washed and dressed, monitor their health and listen to them, you become a part of their world,” she says. “For residents, this is their home. This is their life and at the end of the day you feel good because you’ve made their stay a little bit better.”

But lately, the role of LPN’s in Central Newfoundland’s health care system has been under attack. Cutbacks and downsizing have forced Goulding, along with 95 other LPNs who care for people in the region’s nursing homes, hospitals and outpatient clinics to make do with less. Central Newfoundland Regional Health-care Centre (CNRHC) hasn’t hired an LPN for 10 years. The number of LPNs caring for patients in the region is down by half and many of them have been working as temporaries or on-call since 1990. To add insult to injury, health care managers are refusing to let LPNs do the work for which they are qualified.

“We used to be responsible for admitting patients, monitoring their progress and changing sterile dressings,” says Larry Warford, who works as both a paramedic and LPN. “We’re professionals. We have the expertise and the training. So why don’t our health care managers let us do this work?”

LPNs play vital role

Fed up with staff cuts and their eroding list of duties, Central Newfoundland’s LPNs kicked off their Licensed to Care public information campaign to force health care managers and provincial politicians to listen to their concerns.

“We’re the health care providers on the front line. We’re the ones you see the most,” says Sharon Drover, a physiotherapy assistant. “We’re an important part of Central Newfoundland’s health care team and Licensed to Care is our way of informing people about the vital role we play in their health care system.”

The LPNs are taking a grass roots approach to getting their message out. Soon after their official campaign launch – marked with a news conference in the regional hospital last November – members organized a demonstration day at the local mall, and decorated their own float and took part in the annual Santa Claus parade. They handed out leaflets and campaign material outlining the issues, and answered questions at all three events. The attention generated guest spots on open-line radio and community access TV shows.

“The response to the campaign has been very positive,” says CUPE 990 president Debbie Knight. “People within the community and around the island are quickly becoming aware of our campaign and the issues LPNs have to face everyday as health care providers.”

The LPNs are also meeting with local community groups, preparing an information booth for a high school career day and gearing up for a canvassing drive of Grand Falls-Windsor and surrounding communities.
The LPNs hope to wrap up Licensed to Care by meeting with Roger Grimes, the provincial minister of health and community services and other members of the House of Assembly and getting some concrete assurances from government.

Rich Janecky