Nursing During A Climate Emergency

Sherri Kensall, RN, CNS, NNPBC Board Chair

November 2021

Starting on November 14, 2021, British Columbia was hit by a rain event that broke many records. According to reports, total rain fall was estimated to be roughly 300 percent above normal for the month of November[i]Global News. B.C.'s record-breaking rainfall generates 'mind-boggling' data: Environment Canada. This rain fall event, coupled with fire scorched hillsides from a terrible summer wildfire season, led to mudslides, flooding, evacuations, displacements and tragically, loss of life. Infrastructure damage means that the Lower Mainland has been effectively cut off from the rest of Canada, with roads and rail lines damaged by mudslides and flooding.

As nurses, we watch these events not only as individuals with families who live in the area, but as professionals who wonder about patients and clients and how people who may need life-saving care will be able to access services in the midst of this devastation.

As a Renal Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Fraser Health Authority, I care for vulnerable patients with complex needs who require specialized care. On November 17th, myself and a team of my nursing colleagues were called upon to travel from Abbotsford to Chilliwack to assist stranded dialysis patients. For four hours I triaged these patients. Along with my nursing colleagues and the other care providers on the team, we made complex decisions about who would require dialysis first, when, who might be able to wait and who required emergency care immediately. When we made decisions about the patients who required transport, we were assisted by an incredible crew of firefighters and other first responders who ensured patients were moved safely. As nurses we make complex decisions for patients and clients all the time, and we use our critical thinking skills to make judgement calls about who among the already compromised is the most vulnerable.

These calls to action are what I am reminded of when I think of nursing. It is our job to meet people where they are. Whether in a harm reduction scenario, in a community setting, or for those stranded without access to dialysis, we provide safe, competent, ethical, and evidence-based care. We do so without judgement and without question. There is little doubt that these extreme weather events are coming more closely together which means that as nurses, we must be prepared to provide nursing care in scenarios that we have yet to see or experience.

I know that our profession has the skills to continue to provide exceptional care in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I have had the pleasure of seeing just how fast and nimbly we take action.

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