Since July, three people have died in New Brunswick emergency department waiting rooms and the province’s two health authorities are providing an update on their progress to help deal with the crisis in the health-care system.
Horizon Health Network interim CEO Margaret Melanson and Vitalite Health Authority CEO Dr. France Desrosiers were in Fredericton on Wednesday, alongside the two government-appointed trustees Suzanne Johnston and Gerald Richard.
Both gave 20-minute presentations, highlighting many of the announcements the government has made in recent months, including efforts to reduce surgery wait times, but wouldn’t speak directly about the circumstances around the deaths in three waiting rooms in Moncton, Edmundston and Fredericton.
“What I can say is that we would share with you the improvement efforts that are occurring within our emergency departments and other areas within our system,” Melanson said. “We will commit to provide those as expeditiously as possible.”
No details on the investigations
The first death was in July at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, the second at the Moncton Hospital, and the third at the Edmundston Regional Hospital just one week ago.
In two of the cases, Moncton and Edmundston, the health authorities said the ERs were at ‘critical overcapacity’ or experiencing ‘high traffic volumes and long wait times.’
Melanson said there are a limited number of beds available in ERs for a number of reasons.
“Given the number of staff that are available, as well as physicians to care for these patients, there are limits to the numbers of patients that can be brought into our ERs,” she said.
“Aside from that, we also have numbers of patients waiting within the emergency department to see a specialist, we have patients that are waiting perhaps to move to surgery … we also have patients that are medically unstable and who require admission, or have been admitted to hospital, they are waiting for the transfer to a patient unit.”
Numbers on waiting rooms deaths ‘not useful’
Both CEOs said it wouldn’t release the number of patients that have died in ER waiting rooms because it wouldn’t be a useful statistic and it would “alarm” people.
“To keep a statistic that is exceptional is not useful,” said Dr. France Desrosiers in French.
Melanson added that many of the deaths in the emergency room are unavoidable.
“We do not want to alarm our public and give the impression that every patient who comes into the emergency department will always live,” she said. “Because I will tell you that emergency departments do see deaths.”
Both CEOs said they wanted to be transparent about the progress being made within the system.
Horizon Health Network said they’ve hired approximately 1,134 nurses, but lost 618 in the same period, a data point not included in the presentation, which is only a net gain of about 516.
Vitalite has been able to hire 65 nurses, with 124 graduate nurses hired out of 192. It also hired 35 health-care workers from Belgium, Dubai and London.
On Tuesday, the New Brunswick Health Council released a report on the two health authorities’ progress on the plan: Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action. It says eight out of 35 deliverables have been completed, 23 are in progress, and four are not underway.
“I think given the pandemic context of this past year that’s quite reasonable,” NBHC CEO Stéphane Robichaud told Global News in an interview Tuesday.
– with files from Global News’ Suzanne Lapointe