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St. Boniface emergency department nurses pen open letter, call current state ‘unsustainable’

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The nurses in St. Boniface Hospital’s emergency department say they’re being overwhelmed by the largest number of patients they’ve ever seen and that the new renovations are only hindering their efforts, Global's Marney Blunt reports – Feb 13, 2020

The nurses in St. Boniface Hospital’s emergency department say they’re being overwhelmed by the largest number of patients they’ve ever seen and that the new renovations are only hindering their efforts.

In an open letter signed by The Nurses of St. Boniface Hospital Emergency Department and obtained by Global News, they outline numerous concerns about the newly renovated emergency department, calling it “inadequate and substandard.”

“The nurses are extremely frustrated and ‘burnt out,’” they wrote.

“They are fearful on a daily basis to show up for their shift and are concerned that the opportunity for critical errors to be made is increasing.”

The letter, which is addressed to their “union, the hospital, the region, the government and most importantly, the public,” says wait times are averaging six to nine hours; the new triage pods compromise sightlines, which prevents seeing the waiting room; and several areas meant to help violent patients or those who need psychiatric help are going unused due to staffing vacancies.

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With no nurses to staff available beds, “large volumes of admitted patients (over 20% of our patient volume at times) are languishing in our department, frequently from 24 hours to several days, waiting for a bed to become available within the hospital,” they wrote.

READ MORE: St. Boniface Hospital to postpone some surgeries as demand for critical care surges

Nursing vacancy numbers rose from 18.4 per cent in December 2018 to 18.9 per cent in December 2019 at the hospital, according to numbers provided by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The Manitoba Nurses Union says the current vacancy rate for nurses in St. Boniface’s emergency department is about 28 per cent, meaning one in four positions are unfilled.

St. Boniface emergency department nurses pen open letter, call current state ‘unsustainable’ - image
WRHA

Meanwhile, the most recent emergency department visit numbers show an average 15.33 per cent increase in ER visits at the hospital, from an average of 3,487 monthly in 2016 to 4,022 monthly in 2018.

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Those numbers were obtained by the Manitoba Nurses Union through a Freedom of Information request and shared with Global News.

The complete numbers for 2019 have not been tabulated but were on trend to be higher on average.

“Nurses are going several hours or entire shifts without meal breaks, bathroom breaks or an opportunity to sit down,” according to the letter. “This increases the risk of medical errors and the safety of patients.”

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A spokesperson for the WRHA declined an interview but did provide this statement: “We appreciate the frustration many of our nurses, physicians and staff are experiencing as we continue to manage high patient volumes and a sustained increase in demand for services. As always, we take their concerns seriously, and continue to work with them to find the best possible solutions.”

Health Minister Cameron Friesen had this to say: ““We have confidence in the WRHA and St. Boniface leadership’s ongoing efforts to engage with the nurses and staff to address their concerns.

“We thank the nurses and front-line staff as they continue to work through these transformational changes … The efforts continue to stabilize and strengthen patient care, even during a very significant influenza surge.”

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“These efforts are designed to provide Manitobans what they have long deserved, better health care sooner.”

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says the healthcare system has been spiraling downward since consolidation began a few years ago, and something has got to give.

“We cannot sustain the health care system any longer on the backs of nurses and on the backs of patients. This government created this mess, they should clean it up,” Jackson said.

She says the vacancy rate in St. Boniface’s emergency room is a major problem.

“Nurses are exhausted. They’re working without breaks, they’re working without going to the bathroom, they’re still being mandated for their shifts,” Jackson said. “This is a huge issue. It’s a huge safety issue for nurses and it’s a safety issue for patients because you cannot expect someone to keep that pace up and be able to perform at top functioning (level).”

Jackson also says another part of the problem in hospitals across Winnipeg is the issue of bed capacity in emergency departments and urgent care centres.

“What happens is patients come in, they get seen, they need to be admitted and there’s no beds for them, so they stay in the emergency department,” Jackson said. “As long as those beds in the emergency department have patients waiting to be admitted, that means patients in the waiting room are waiting longer.”

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“That is a big problem the fact that we are bottle-necking patients in the emergency department.”

-with files from Brittany Greenslade and Marney Blunt

Read the full letter below:

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