The BC Nurses Union says nurses with COVID-19 could face lengthy delays in accessing compensation through WorkSafeBC.

According to WorkSafe BC, nurses rank at the top of the list of health care workers who have contracted the virus.

As of June 8, 136 nurses in British Columbia have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and account for just over 20 per cent of coronavirus cases among health care workers in BC.

BCNU president, Christine Sorensen, says nurses should not have to worry about running into barriers when filing a claim.

“We are calling on the government to ensure that any nurse who was exposed to COVID-19 is compensated through WorkSafe BC’s presumptive coverage, as an occupational disease,” she added. “Meaning that it is presumed that the nurse would have been exposed in the workplace and that they need to be covered by WorkSafe BC for any care or treatment that is required.”

Sorensen said nurses, and health care workers who are infected with the virus while performing their duty to care for patients must be supported immediately: “The current system requires a policy analysis and can be very laborious and time-consuming.”

BCNU recently sent a letter to Labour Minister Harry Bains expressing concerns over the potential for delays. 

The union has also launched an online campaign that encourages the public to write their MLA and ask that they put pressure on the government to ensure the immediate inclusion of COVID-19 to the list of occupational diseases that are presumed to have been contracted in the workplace.

“Nurses are professionals, but they aren’t expendable,” says Sorensen. “The last four months have been stressful for our members, and it is hard to predict if we will experience a second wave. We need to ensure the health and well-being of nurses and all health care workers is a top priority and doesn’t get bogged down by bureaucratic delays.”

She added that the last four months have been “incredibly stressful” for their members.

“Certainly with the immediate fear of the rise of COVID in our province, then managing those people that are in our facilities, as well as in acute care, and we’ve seen the crisis in long-term care,” Sorensen said. “Thankfully we have managed relatively well in this province, but now, of course, the burden of transitioning people back to their roles as well as bringing on more people to care for those people who are coming into our system because of the impending number of surgeries that need to be done.”

In a statement, Ministry spokeswoman, Julianne McCaffrey, said “We want to make sure that all people whose work puts them at a higher risk of exposure to communicable viral pathogens like COVID-19 have access to workers’ compensation benefits in a timely fashion.

That’s why WorkSafeBC is expediting the addition of COVID-19 and other communicable viral pathogens to the list of occupational diseases in the Workers Compensation Act.”