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Staff shortage continues to diminish HSC ER

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ER patients at Manitoba’s largest hospital face compromised care and the potential for neglect in the waiting room as chronic nursing staff shortages continue, one front-line worker says.

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ER patients at Manitoba’s largest hospital face compromised care and the potential for neglect in the waiting room as chronic nursing staff shortages continue, one front-line worker says.

Over the Canada Day long weekend, night shifts at Health Sciences Centre emergency department were reportedly desperately understaffed and additional nurses had to be brought in from the downtown Winnipeg hospital’s intensive care units, while managers also stepped in to cover.

Paramedics were not asked again to cover for the lack of nurses in the department, Shared Health confirmed Monday. (The hospital made that request of already stretched-thin paramedics during a particularly busy weekend last month.)

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Night shifts at Health Sciences Centre emergency department were reportedly desperately understaffed over the Canada Day long weekend.

One HSC ER nurse said patients are inevitably waiting longer and are being neglected as a result of the understaffing.

“We’ve just accepted that we are working dangerously understaffed and we work minute by minute to survive,” said the ER nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing for her job if she were to speak out publicly.

“Patient care was most certainly compromised over the weekend due to lack of staff. Patients are being neglected. Not to any fault of the nursing or support staff, but simply because there isn’t enough resources.

“We are stretched so thin we cannot provide even the most basic human care in some instances. There is no incentive to retain highly trained staff. Subsequently this weekend, patients suffered, and their conditions worsened because care could not be provided to them in a timely manner.”

In a statement, a Shared Health spokesperson stated staff shortages at HSC’s adult emergency department have been well-documented and continued over the long weekend.

“As you know, these challenges are not unique to our facility, as hospitals throughout the country are experiencing similar issues,” the statement reads.

“As we have on previous weekends, call-outs occurred to both regular and part-time staff, as well as those in the casual pool. On-shift staff were approached to work overtime. Critical care nurses were also reassigned at various points to assist in the adult ED and managers were working in the department to support staffing needs.”

Shared Health didn’t provide figures when asked how many ER nurses were working per shift at the HSC over the long weekend.

In a move to further rely on additional non-specialized nurses to treat trauma patients, resuscitation training for some licensed practical nurses at HSC begins this month, Shared Health confirmed last week. More than a quarter of ER nurses at HSC have left those positions.

In a statement issued on June 28, a Shared Health spokesman wrote the nurse staffing vacancy rate was then 26.6 per cent in the HSC emergency department.

“Education standards for LPNs in Manitoba are amongst the highest in the country, allowing them to play an important role in the province’s health-care system — including in emergency departments — and qualified to perform to a higher scope of practice. This includes work in resuscitation and trauma,” the spokesman stated.

“Extending opportunities to LPNs to participate in orientation training for resuscitation and trauma reflects our support for these valuable staff by providing them with opportunities to work to their full scope of practice. The training of these nurses will be done in stages, with a few LPNs scheduled to participate in resuscitation training (in July).”

Each nursing shift at HSC is supposed to have at least 24 ER nurses. Even when day-shift staffing is close to normal, an increasing number of sick calls tend to come at night largely due to the mental and physical exhaustion nurses experience during their 12-hour shifts at the inner-city hospital “due to the abundance of violence in this city,” the experienced ER nurse said.

“Night shift is its own special breed. Knowing the potential patients we may face, coupled with a lack of resources and support, it’s just too much to do for any amount of time,” she continued.

“It’s hard to continue to go to work when at the end of the day you feel as though you have failed your community members.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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