March 16, 2019 10:03 am
Updated: March 16, 2019 10:05 am

‘Boiling point’ reached after Code Orange denied at Halifax ER: NSGEU

The NSGEU says the unsafe conditions are outlined in a Clinical Capacity Report, which is a workload measurement tool used by nurses.

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Nurses at the Halifax Infirmary emergency department were not allowed to call a special alert for understaffing Wednesday night, according to their union.

In a news release, the Nova Scotia General Employees Union (NSGEU) said just three doctors were on rotation and three fewer registered nurses (RNs) than required when, at one point, 99 patients were in the department. By 4 a.m., 42 patients left the ER without seeing a doctor, the NSGEU adds.

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Union president Jason MacLean says that as a result, nurses attempted to call a Code Orange — a special alert reserved mainly for incidents with mass casualties — but the request was denied by their employer.

MacLean says the emergency department has now reached a “boiling point.”

“This is being brought forward by the workers that are overwhelmed,” MacLean said in a phone interview Friday. “It can’t even go unsaid that they were understaffed that night.”

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The NSGEU says the unsafe conditions are outlined in a Clinical Capacity Report, which is a workload measurement tool used by nurses.

Nurses reported that seven critically ill patients in trauma beds required one-on-one nursing, but only four RNs were on duty. Five other patients requiring a high degree of care had to be shifted to an area where new nurses — who haven’t been fully orientated to the emergency department — are normally assigned.

The report also says there were nine ambulances full of patients between the ages of 85 and 95 for more than 12 hours. As well, four other hospitals in the province were trying to transfer patients to the Halifax ER, forcing the Cobequid Community Health Centre to stay open overnight.

MacLean says the situation is unsafe and unacceptable.

“The system is already broken, and with that broken system, what they’re trying to do is push things back,” MacLean said.

“I think the reasoning is totally political. I think what you’re looking at is an employer that’s really been amalgamated into a bigger employer from other different health authorities.”

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The matter was brought forward during Question Period on Friday by NDP Leader Gary Burrill, who questioned Premier Stephen McNeil on when “sanity will be restored” to patient flow. McNeil countered by highlighting the new long-term care beds that will soon be coming to hospitals in New Waterford and Northside.

“The fact of the matter is we’ll continue to make sure we provide long-term care beds and I look forward to the honourable members’ support as we continue to do that,” McNeil said.

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The province says it is in the process of gathering information from the Nova Scotia Health Authority on what happened Wednesday night.

MacLean claims he’s been reaching out to Health Minister Randy Delorey since Tuesday evening but has been unable to have a conversation with him.

“What I’m doing is making myself available to the minister whenever he wants to talk,” MacLean reiterated.

“Let’s get together and find some solutions to this because right now all (Delorey) seems to be doing is avoiding the situation.”

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