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Emergency room nurses sound alarm over staffing shortages in Quebec hospitals

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An organization representing emergency nurses in Quebec is sounding the alarm over staffing shortages in emergency rooms, saying it is detrimental to the quality of care offered in hospitals across the province.

The Association des infirmières et infirmiers d’urgence du Québec (AIIUQ) said in a statement Wednesday that it was “extremely concerned” by the lack of qualified nursing personnel and the resulting consequences “for establishments, care teams and patients.”

“The situation could worsen in the coming weeks in light of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the association, which represents about 7,000 nurses.

The lack of nursing staff has led to the partial or full closure of emergency departments, according to the AIIUQ. It pointed to the Gatineau Hospital, where the ER has been operating at reduced capacity since June. The department is fully open during the day, but the local health authority reports services have been scaled down at night.

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The AIIUQ also cited other emergency room closures in the past months at the Suroît, Coaticook, Port-Cartier and Senneterre hospitals.

The shortage has major repercussions on emergency services across Quebec, the association said. This includes hiring of unqualified staff and an increase in nurse-to-patient ratios. It has also lead to a reduction in care services that aren’t considered critical and less training in continuing education for nurses, it added.

A lack of qualified emergency room staff has led to more mandatory overtime, said the AIIUQ, and “leads to a reduction in the quality and safety of care.” There has also been an exodus of nurses to the private sector.

The Quebec government’s “political will” to tackle the critical nursing shortage in the public system was applauded by the association, but it said it would have liked to have seen “concrete commitments” to curtail mandatory overtime and to improve working conditions for nurses.

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Premier François Legault announced last week that the province will offer one-time bonuses ranging from $12,000 to $18,000 to nurses who work full-time in the public health network. The government says the plan will help rectify the shortage of nearly 4,000 nurses, but it has been criticized by health-care professionals for not including measures to end mandatory overtime.

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Legault, for his part, has said the lack of nurses has aggravated other issues. The goal is to offer a better work-life balance and improve working conditions too, but in order to do that the province first has to bolster staffing, he told reporters last week.

On Wednesday, the association representing emergency room nurses said the plan to give extra cash will provide short-term relief, but won’t fix longstanding problems.

The AIIUQ called on the government to implement “special measures” for emergency rooms and other departments, saying they are facing a “glaring lack of expertise.”

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—With files from The Canadian Press

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