Probe launched after yet another patient dies in N.B. hospital emergency department

Click to play video: 'N.B. woman holds rally after what she calls near-death experience at ER'
N.B. woman holds rally after what she calls near-death experience at ER
Just two weeks ago, Bianca Gallant was minutes from death; she had to seek treatment at three N.B. hospitals before she received the care she needed. It's an experience that led her to hold a rally, calling on the government to improve healthcare in the province. Nathalie Sturgeon has the details – Dec 3, 2022

Another New Brunswick hospital has confirmed a patient death in its emergency department, as the province grapples with capacity issues in the health-care system.

Vitalité Health Network said the patient died at the Edmundston Regional Hospital on Wednesday.

In a statement, Vitalité said its president and CEO, Dr. France Desrosiers, was “saddened by this turn of events” and that an analysis is underway to “determine what happened and make any required improvements.”

“She also thanked the Emergency Department team members for their exemplary dedication and assured them of her full support,” said Vitalité.

When asked about this latest ER death at the legislature in Fredericton on Thursday, Health Minister Bruce Fitch told reporters the severity of illness among patients arriving at the ER has been difficult to manage.

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“The acuity of patients showing up at the emergency room is getting greater and greater and that is causing some of the backlog, but know there are many, many things we are doing to alleviate pressures,” he said.

Click to play video: 'N.B. woman holds rally after what she calls near-death experience at ER'
N.B. woman holds rally after what she calls near-death experience at ER

“I met with the CEOs and trustees yesterday and we discussed this matter amongst a number of other matters of importance to the health-care system. And that is one of the pieces of information (I received), is the level of acuity that people are presenting themselves to the ER is very, very high and some of the outcomes are unavoidable.”

He added that the regional health authorities (RHA) in the province have been tasked with making improvements to staff recruitment, patient flow and opening beds, and that government is doing the best it can to address the crisis in health care.

“We can manage the things that we can manage and again, endeavour to have better outcomes in the future. But the reality is, we as New Brunswickers are aging and we are getting sicker and we need to again take care of our health and (we’re) trying to assist people (to) get that primary care,” he said.

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Opposition members say the current situation is unacceptable — considering New Brunswickers don’t know if they will receive appropriate live-saving care if they need it.

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“It’s really concerning to see people dying in ERs. And of course there are going to be cases where people die when they go to the hospital, we know that. However, what we’re seeing is people showing up to the hospital and not getting the care they need when they need it,” said Green Party health critic, Megan Mitton.

Mitton, who is also the MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, relayed a story about a woman from her riding who went to hospital in an ambulance and waited 14 hours before requiring emergency surgery.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick woman says she almost died while waiting for health care'
New Brunswick woman says she almost died while waiting for health care

“She was dying,” said Mitton.

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“That is not OK. And the doctors, and the nurses, and the paramedics — they’re all doing everything they can to save lives but patients aren’t always getting the care they need in time to save their lives.”

Other ER deaths

A number of ER deaths in the province this year have prompted patients, families, advocates and politicians to call for change in the health-care system.

In late November, a man died at the Moncton Hospital ER while waiting for care. Horizon Health Network later confirmed the ER was in “critical overcapacity” at the time.

According to the Moncton Muslim Association, the man — identified as MS — was a former kidney transplant patient who had recently undergone a medical procedure.

The association, which MS was an active member of, said he arrived at the hospital complaining of severe chest and back pain at 10 p.m.

“By 3:30 am that same night, he would be deceased, not having had a meaningful interaction (with) a doctor or nurse until collapsing in the emergency waiting room,” the association said in a statement.

Click to play video: 'Rally demands health-care action after Moncton ER death'
Rally demands health-care action after Moncton ER death

A rally was held Nov. 26 — where friends and family also called for a complete investigation into the status of emergency care in the province.

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On Dec. 3, a New Brunswick woman held a rally of her own, outside Moncton City Hall. Bianca Gallant said she was forced to seek treatment at three New Brunswick hospitals before she found care.

A surgeon later told her she was just “minutes” away from death, but only after she had waited 14 hours at the Dr. Georges.-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.

She called directly on Premier Blaine Higgs to act.

“If you’re not able to do so, maybe it’s time you resign, and let somebody else who cares take the step,” she said at the rally.

ER closures, long waits, overcapacity

Over the past year, patients have been speaking out about struggling with ER closures, long waits and being turned away because of capacity.

In October, Vitalité and Horizon health networks said they had been hiring travel nurses from private temp agencies to fill gaps in staffing — especially in its emergency departments and critical care areas.

In August, Horizon Health launched a pilot project at its five major hospitals where a health-care professional would be stationed in the waiting room 24 hours a day.

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The move was a direct result of the death of a patient at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital ER waiting area on July 12.

A patient also died at the Edmundston Regional Hospital ER, which falls under Vitalité Health Network, on July 24.

On Aug. 12, a patient who arrived at The Moncton Hospital’s ER also died while awaiting care.

The death at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital prompted Premier Blaine Higgs to fire president and CEO of Horizon Health Network Dr. John Dornan and shuffle out Dorothy Shephard from the health portfolio.

Higgs also wiped both boards, which are elected positions, from Vitalité and Horizon health networks. Two trustees were put in place instead.

— with files from Alex Cooke and Nathalie Sturgeon

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