The New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) commends its nurse, health care assistant and kaimahi hauora members working in our flood-devasted areas.
NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, who lives in Hawke’s Bay, says many are dealing with their own personal traumas as a result of the floods, but where they can they are still turning up to their jobs, working extra shifts to cover those unable to work, and mucking in with the community clean up.
"The floods have made the region resemble a war zone, with devastation everywhere and helicopters constantly overhead. Just getting to work can take hours longer each way, and short staffing is rife so extra shifts have become the norm for anyone able to work."
Coronary care nurse, Napier resident and NZNO member Sami Mcintosh said everyone has been affected by trauma, either directly, through a loved one, or through compassion or feelings of guilt at not being able to do more for those less fortunate.
"We are doing what we can to keep our patients safe - nurses, cleaners and all the way through to nurse managers - but beds, personnel and resources are short and we are in survival mode."
Ms Mcintosh said standards of care have been compromised by reduced staffing levels, but the hard truth is that many nurses are simply unable to work.
"We have nurses whose homes have been destroyed and they having to deal with that. There’s also fear around looting, which means people are reluctant to leave their houses unoccupied.
"Nurses are used to the tension around balancing their own needs with the needs of their patients, but this has brought that tension up to a whole other level. Do we deal with our own catastrophes, help our neighbour shovel their property, or work ourselves ragged doing endless extra shifts?"
NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said that for decades governments have under-invested in the nursing workforce and that our lack of preparedness for disasters, in terms of nursing numbers, is further proof of that.
"Better planning for emergencies is needed of course, but part of that has to be building a large and resilient homegrown workforce."
Nevertheless, Ms Nuku said she is immensely proud of the way nurses and health workers in flood-hit areas have responded to the crisis.
"Once again we’re rising to the challenge where a lot is being asked of us. Despite the tensions and demands on them, nurses are doing their best with what resources they have.
"Community nurses are working with marae and local aid agencies, or with the centres where many of the displaced people are being housed. Hospital nurses are juggling lack of bedspace and resources alongside increased staff absenteeism to see that patients get the best care possible."
She said the devastated communities owe their nurses a debt of gratitude, and that the destruction wrought by Hurricane Gabrielle has only further underscored the need for better investment towards growing the nursing workforce.