The province’s largest hospital is suffering from chronic overcapacity problems, a statement from Eastern Health revealed on Friday.
The Health Sciences Center in St. John’s was constantly in double overcapacity for nearly three months — from June 20 through Thursday, according to a statement from Eastern Health.
Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses’ Union, says when individual excess capacity is called, each inpatient unit of the hospital must admit an additional patient from the emergency department, even if there aren’t enough beds or staff available. According to Coffey, this is a situation that often results in patients being left on stretchers in hospital corridors.
“With double overcapacity, which seems to be the norm these days, each unit admitted two patients, [regardless] whether or not they have nurses to look after these patients or whether or not they have beds,” Coffey said.
Between March and June of this year, the Health Sciences Center experienced 25 single overcapacity and 16 double overcapacity times, Eastern Health said. Before March, there was overcapacity in the hospital four times a week on average.
In its statement to CBC News, Eastern Health also revealed that St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s has experienced single overcapacity 72 times and double overcapacity 27 times since March, compared to an average of three times per month prior to March.
emergency in the emergency room
The health agency asked for help earlier this week because it only had half the nursing staff to work in the Health Sciences Center’s emergency room this weekend.
In an internal memo sent to all staff on Thursday and obtained by CBC News, Eastern Health said it had an “immediate need” for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nursing staff to work extra shifts or overtime at the department perform from September 16th to 18th.
Debbie Walsh, vice president and chief nursing officer at Eastern Health, called the memo a “voluntary call” and said 14 registered nurses are needed to work the day shift in the health sciences emergency department, while 12 are needed for the night shift.
“We started when we were eight, we’re almost 14 now – that’s for the day shift. And for the night shift we were down to six employees… and the numbers for Sunday are very similar,” Walsh said Friday afternoon.
“Our headcount is being stabilized for this weekend,” she said.
The emergency room staffing shortage follows a statement from Eastern Health last Saturday, in which the health agency said it was facing “unprecedented pressures resulting in long wait times for patients.” It also urged patients who were not experiencing medical emergencies to stay away from subway emergency rooms.
Walsh says people should try alternatives like 811, walk-in clinics, or their GP before going to the emergency room.
Meanwhile, Coffey says she doesn’t think the health-care crisis can get any worse. She says of 54 nursing positions in the Health Sciences Center’s emergency room, 19 are vacant.
“It just hit a breaking point,” Coffey said.
Coffey says “out-of-the-box ideas” are needed to solve the staffing crisis. Calling for staff to help in the ER is an idea being mooted by a committee working to fix problems in the Health Sciences Center’s ER.
Oftentimes, staff need special training to work in emergency rooms, and Coffey says nurses answering the call this weekend wouldn’t be treating patients who are in a medical emergency without that training.
Instead, she said, they would tend to patients stuck in the emergency room waiting to be admitted to another hospital unit. Coffey said about 20 to 30 patients are admitted to either the Health Sciences Center or St. Clare’s Hospital each day with no available beds due to nursing staff shortages.
“My understanding is that these Registered Nurses, LPNs and PCAs would be practicing in their area of practice and caring for these admitted patients who would normally be on the floor anyway,” Coffey said.
“This would allow emergency room nurses to do what they need to do.”
NECK not consulted
NAPE represents many licensed practical nurses, personal caregivers and paramedics in the healthcare system, and union president Jerry Earle said asking staff to work shifts in the emergency room was another sign the system was in crisis.
“It’s not a place where you can walk in on a Saturday morning and say I’m here to do a shift … emergency services [are] extremely demanding,” Earle said. “You don’t know what’s coming through that door.”
Earle said he heard about the call for staff from a family member, and Eastern Health did not consult with them about the shortage.
“This is extremely worrying,” Earle said. “We could have helped them if they had come to us.”
Earle said a more proactive approach was needed.
“We’re running out of patches. We now have a healthcare system that is bleeding and all we do is just go around the province putting band-aids on.”
Pcs say they won’t do politics
Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative leader David Brazil calls the situation “alarming” and calls for immediate solutions.
“We are in a critical crisis now as our tertiary care center here is at a point where it’s actually reaching out to anyone who is available to come in and help… That tells you what’s happening in this healthcare space. care crisis,” said Brazil.
Brazil is seeking a collaborative approach between the provincial government and health workers, considering solutions such as returning retired health workers for a limited time or speeding up admission procedures for newcomers.
“This is one of those times when we don’t play politics. What we are doing is what is in the best interests of the people of this province,” Brazil said.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Tom Osborne believes Eastern Health’s call for help was “proactive” and he promises more incentives to hire and retain health workers.
“Quite simply, we need to do a better job of recruiting and retention,” Osborne said.
“Health workers across the province have been dealing with the pandemic and the cyber attack for the last two years, they’ve been working very, very hard and they need additional staff working alongside them to ease the burden that is being felt to eliminate burden and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
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