Emer­gency de­part­ment nurs­ing short­age grad­u­ally be­ing re­solved at St. Paul’s

The Province - - NEWS - PAMELA FAYERMAN pfay­er­[email protected]­media.com

A nurs­ing cri­sis in the emer­gency de­part­ment at St. Paul’s Hospi­tal caused by res­ig­na­tions and per­son­nel turnover is grad­u­ally be­ing re­solved after the B.C. Nurs­ing Union forced a for­mal re­view.

In Septem­ber, Post­media re­ported that nearly three dozen reg­is­tered nurses had left the emer­gency de­part­ment (ED) in the past year be­cause of a nurs­ing short­age lead­ing to too much over­time and harsh work­ing con­di­tions. In the past two months, five va­can­cies have dwin­dled to three, ac­cord­ing to Elaine Yong, spokes­woman for St. Paul’s.

There are about 20 nurses work­ing in the unit dur­ing each 12-hour shift. An av­er­age of 250 pa­tients are in the ED of the down­town Van­cou­ver hospi­tal each day.

“We have made good progress in ad­dress­ing the ED nurs­ing sit­u­a­tion (and) col­lab­o­ra­tive meet­ings with the union are on­go­ing,” Yong said.

Chris­tine Sorensen, pres­i­dent of the BCNU, said she is “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic” about the di­rec­tion St. Paul’s lead­ers are go­ing now that the mat­ter has been re­ported in the me­dia and the union has ini­ti­ated the for­mal re­view.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that it takes a story in the me­dia be­fore change oc­curs. But I think the pub­lic pres­sure has helped. As well, there’s a new man­ager in the unit and nurses have a lot of re­spect for this in­di­vid­ual. I even heard that once St. Paul’s lead­ers com­mit­ted to the re­view process, some nurses who were think­ing of re­sign­ing ac­tu­ally re­scinded.”

Ac­cord­ing to Yong, sev­eral BCIT grads will be com­ing on staff in the next few weeks and an­other group of nurs­ing stu­dents will start their spe­cialty train­ing in Jan­uary. As well, a few nurses from other com­mu­ni­ties out­side of Van­cou­ver have re­lo­cated to St. Paul’s. But nurs­ing va­can­cies ap­pear to be a fact of life be­cause spe­cial­ized nurses are hard to re­cruit and re­tain, Yong said.

Sorensen said the union is still press­ing to get a copy of a mas­ter staff ro­ta­tion list so it can an­a­lyze the pa­tient-tostaff ra­tio, “but oddly, we are be­ing told that can­not be pro­vided.

There are 150 nurses avail­able to the ED, in­clud­ing about 70 full-time nurses, 26 part­time and about 50 ca­su­als.

“It’s odd that we are hav­ing dif­fi­culty get­ting this in­for­ma­tion and even more odd that man­age­ment doesn’t have a grasp on this sort of thing,” Sorensen said, re­fer­ring to the mas­ter staff list.

Sorensen said St. Paul’s is far from unique in its nurs­ing short­age sit­u­a­tion.

“Last week, I heard about a sit­u­a­tion in the north where a newly grad­u­ated nurse who had been work­ing in an emer­gency unit for only a month was placed in charge be­cause they are so short-staffed. It takes a few years to be a charge nurse. But that’s how des­per­ate the sit­u­a­tion is,” she said, adding that there is a hospi­tal on Van­cou­ver Is­land that has nine nurse va­can­cies in its ED.

Sorensen said many hos­pi­tals put non-nurses in ED man­age­ment roles and, “not to dis­par­age phys­io­ther­a­pists or di­eti­tians, but they can­not un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties and don’t have the ed­u­ca­tion, ex­per­tise, and sup­port. So they may be way out of their depth as the man­agers (of nurses) in these emer­gency units.”


St. Paul’s Hospi­tal emer­gency room nurse Alice McLaren ex­am­ines a pa­tient. The nurses’ union has com­plained of fre­quent over­time caus­ing burnout in the de­part­ment.

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