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. Nurses’ 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heard that once St. Paul’s leaders committed to the review process, some nurses who were thinking of resigning actually rescinded.”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-to-staff 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 part-time 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 being short on nurses.
“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.”
According to exit interviews conducted with nurses who have left the ED, their reasons include challenging patient demographics, the housing affordability crisis, and other work opportunities.