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August 2017

Canada’s Nurses Meet, Speak Out in Calgary: How a medical association is using its app to amplify members’ voices

A federal bill currently being proposed in Canada recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an occupational illness for first responders, firefighters, police officers, and military personnel—but not for nurses. The bill has already passed in many provinces, but nurses in Canada have decided they won’t let this happen at the federal level.

“As nurses we suffer with PTSD symptoms and diagnoses just as much as male-dominated professions,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU). “We needed nurses who are working 24/7 to speak up and send their message to the politicians, that they can't pass legislation nationally that will exclude us on such an important topic.”

So CNFU created an app called Speak Up, which gives nurses direct access to contact their federal and provincial elected officials. It launched in early 2017 and was operational in time for CFNU’s Biennial Convention, held at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC), June 5-9.

At the conference, CFNU used the app to send “issue alerts,” asking the 1,200 nurses who attended the conference—whose theme was “Speak Up!”—to reach out to elected officials concerning particular legislation. The app allowed users to send social media messages or to send emails directly to officials; during the 2017 Biennial Convention, CFNU took 718 actions concerning the PTSD bill.

CFNU’s mission expands far beyond that particular legislative issue and speakers from all over the globe came to Calgary to address topics related to patient safety, safe staffing, and building up public healthcare systems, Silas said. An international panel addressed health-care workers in the world’s conflict areas and how the nurses unions can help support the Canadian government and the United Nations to make sure medical professionals are protected. The advocacy didn’t end at the conference: in the weeks following the convention, CFNU sent out another issue alert via the Speak Up app, prompting nurses to ask federal politicians to support healthcare workers in war zones.

The 2017 Biennial Convention was the first time the CFNU held the event in Calgary. “It was easy to see the expertise and experience [CTCC] has in holding national and international conferences,” Silas said. “From the receptionist to the event managers, everyone was so helpful. They knew exactly what you were looking for. It shows their professionalism and experience in hosting big crowds.”

On the final day of the conference, CFNU brought massive crowds into the streets of Calgary for a health-care rally. The event “was all about defending and enhancing our healthcare system,” Silas said. “We wanted to bring that positive energy to nurses, so they could go back to their region with a bag full of energy and good ideas and all the evidence they need to change the world and their community.

Calgary also helped the CFNU give back to the community — after the rally on June 9, the convention center arranged for leftover food to be given to a food bank,” Silas said. “It was all organized between the convention center and the city. We learned something in Calgary—we’re going to contact a food bank in advance, so when we have a big picnic or something, we can plan it ahead of time to donate the food.”

For more information: Meetings + Conventions Calgary — (877) 710-6338; info@meetingscalgary.com; MeetingsCalgary.com.

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