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Edmonton health historian provides a link to nurses from the past

Registered nurse Nick Beil was facing a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Grey Nuns Hospital when, with the help of a local historian, he decided to turn to his colleagues from a century ago for advice on how to persevere during a pandemic.
By: Heather Marie Connors
December 12, 2020
Photo from the Glenbow Archives.

Healthcare workers navigating COVID-19 are facing conditions that haven’t been seen in generations. The Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton has been managing outbreaks on three units since late October.

"There is nobody in the generations of nursing that are working right now that has that ability to draw on something of this magnitude and this severity and say with any determination that it will be OK and we will get through it," said Nick Beil, program manager for the hospital's emergency department.

"I had to reach out to someone from the past."

Beil’s cousin, Suzanna Wagner, recently finished a master’s degree in the history of nursing. She began compiling quotes and reflections from nurses who worked during the 1918 pandemic and the First World War, and Beil started sharing them during his weekly staff updates. The parallels between then and now have resonated with the staff. One of the most noticeable similarities is the renewed appreciation for the importance of nurses.

"Although influenza was a blow to the prestige of medicine and public health, it was a boon to the reputation and pride of nursing. In its aftermath, nursing leaders correctly pointed out the value of quality nursing care, which in the absence of effective medical intervention was especially important," wrote authors Esyllt Jones and Magda Fahrni in the 2012 book Epidemic Encounters.

When asked by CBC what nurses 100 years from now will make of this moment, Beil said:

"One of the things I'm hopeful for is that some of the more poetic nurses among us will take an opportunity to create some reflections of their own and pass that on.”

Source: CBC Edmonton

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