Health Sciences Center double overcapacity for nearly 3 months, reveals Eastern Health

St. John’s hospitals are experiencing chronic overcapacity issues and the Health Sciences Emergency Room had only half the nursing staff needed for that weekend. (Paul Daly/CBC)

The province’s largest hospital is experiencing chronic overcapacity issues, a statement from Eastern Health revealed on Friday.

For nearly three months — from June 20 until Thursday — St. John’s Health Sciences Center was continuously double overcapacity, according to a statement from Eastern Health.

Registered Nurses Union President Yvette Coffey said that in the event of a single overcapacity, each hospital inpatient unit must take an additional patient from the emergency room, even if they are not there are not enough beds or staff available. Coffey says it’s a situation that often results in patients being left on stretchers in hospital hallways.

“With double overcapacity, which seems to be the norm these days, each unit accommodated two patients, [regardless] whether or not they have nurses to care for these patients or whether or not they have beds,” Coffey said.

A nurse places an oxygen mask on a patient's face as the woman lies in a hospital bed.
Nurse Niki Parsons spoke publicly about the state of the healthcare system earlier this year. She wanted patients to know that nurses are doing the best they can with the resources they have. (NL Registered Nurses Union)

Between March and June of this year, single overcapacity was in place at the Health Sciences Center 25 times, and double overcapacity was called 16 times, Eastern Health said. Prior to March, overcapacity was happening at the hospital an average of four times a week.

In its statement to CBC News, Eastern Health also revealed that as of March, St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s was single overcapacity 72 times and double overcapacity 27 times, compared to an average of three times. per month before March. .

ER emergency

The health authority appealed for help earlier this week because it only had half the nursing staff needed to work at the Health Sciences Center emergency room this weekend.

In an internal memo sent to all staff on Thursday, which was obtained by CBC News, Eastern Health said it had an “immediate need” for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal care workers. to work additional shifts or overtime at the department from Sept. 16-18.

Debbie Walsh, vice president and chief nursing officer at Eastern Health, called the memo a “voluntary appeal” and said 14 registered nurses are needed to work the day shift at the science emergency room in health, while 12 are needed for the night shift. .

St. John’s Health Sciences Center was double over capacity all summer, June 20 to September 15. (Paul Daly/CBC)

“We started with eight, now we’re almost at 14 – that’s for the day shift. And for the night shift we were down to just six employees…and the numbers are very similar for Sunday,” Walsh said Friday. afternoon.

“Our squad will be stabilized for this weekend,” she said.

The emergency department staffing shortage follows a statement from Eastern Health last Saturday, in which the health authority said it was facing “unprecedented pressures resulting in long wait times for patients.” . He also asked patients who were not experiencing medical emergencies to stay away from subway emergency rooms.

Walsh says people should try alternatives such as 811, walk-in clinics or their family doctor before going to the emergency room.

‘Breaking point’

Meanwhile, Coffey says she doesn’t think the healthcare system crisis can get any worse. She says that of 54 nursing positions in the Health Sciences Center emergency department, 19 are vacant.

“He just hit a breaking point,” Coffey said.

Coffey says “off the shelf ideas” are needed to solve the staffing crisis. The call for staff to help in the emergency department, she said, was an idea being discussed by a committee, which is working to address issues at the Health Sciences Center emergency room.

Yvette Coffey is president of the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Radio Canada)

Often staff need specialized training to work in emergency rooms, and Coffey says nurses on call this weekend without that training wouldn’t be caring for patients in medical emergencies.

Instead, she said, they would deal with patients stuck in the emergency room waiting to be admitted to another hospital unit. Coffey said that every day about 20 to 30 patients are admitted to Health Sciences Center or St. Clare Hospital without available beds due to a shortage of nursing staff.

“My understanding is that these RNs, LPNs, PCAs would be practicing within their scope of practice and caring for these admitted patients who would normally be on the floor anyway,” Coffey said.

“It would allow ER nurses to do what they need to do.”

NAPE not consulted

NAPE represents many licensed practical nurses, personal care workers and paramedics in the health care system, and union president Jerry Earle said asking staff to replace emergency shifts is another sign that the system is in crisis.

“It’s not a place where you can go 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 going 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.

“It’s extremely concerning,” Earle said. “We could have helped them with that, if they had come to us.”

Jerry Earle is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, the province’s largest public sector union. He represents licensed practical nurses and personal care workers, whom Eastern Health also had an “immediate need” for this weekend. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Earle said a more proactive approach is needed.

“We are running out of bandages. We now have a health care system that is bleeding and all we do is go around the province, sticking bandages 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 that our tertiary care center here is at a point now where they are reaching out to anyone who might be available to come and help… That tells you what is going on in this health-crisis care,” said Brazil.

A man stands at the microphone during a press conference.  He stands in front of a Newfoundland and Labrador flag.
Tom Osborne is Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest Minister of Health. He promises more incentives to address staffing shortages. (Patrick Butler/Radio Canada)

Brazil wants to see a collaborative approach between the provincial government and health professionals and consider solutions such as the return of retired health workers for a limited period or the acceleration of licensing processes for new arrivals.

“This is one of the times when we won’t play politics. What we will play is what is in the best interests of the people of this province,” Brazil said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Tom Osborne believes the call for help from Eastern Health was ‘proactive’ and he is promising more incentives to recruit and retain healthcare workers.

“Quite simply, we need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining,” Osborne said.

“Healthcare professionals across the province have dealt with the pandemic over the past two years, the cyberattack, they have worked very, very hard and they need additional people working side by side with them to alleviate the burden, to lift the burden and we focus on that.”

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