Saskatchewan nurses alarmed over ‘dangerous’ crowding in hospitals

Saskatchewan’s largest nurses union says overcrowding has reached dangerous levels in one of the province’s major hospitals.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory says the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon had 80 people waiting in emergency Wednesday night, with many of them in beds in the hallway.

She said eight patients required psychiatric treatment and of those, three were on stretchers for 120 hours.

“It’s an incredibly dangerous situation,” Zambory said Thursday.

“If they are ill, people start to become frustrated, they become upset. And the people that end up bearing the brunt of it are the registered nurses and other health-care providers on the front line.”

Zambory said nurses called the fire marshal to find spaces for patients. It’s the third time since December fire marshals have been called into the province’s hospitals.

She added there were three paramedics waiting with patients in the hallway, resulting in fewer ambulances on the road to respond to other calls.

“This is not how health care should be run in this province.”

For years, Saskatchewan’s hospitals have been near or above capacity due to various issues, including short staffing and not enough long-term or supportive care facilities.

There are also fewer family doctors available, and some rural hospitals have been intermittently closed, resulting in patients having to go to emergency rooms should they need help.

“It is becoming more and more the norm,” Zambory said of the overcrowding.

In the fall, the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced it would implement action plans in Regina and Saskatoon to relieve pressures.

John Ash, vice-president of Integrated Saskatoon Health, said Thursday that since the authority launched the plans, it has hired 90 people and intends to hire 190 more. He did not say how many have left since the fall.

“We would expect that the additional staff that were gained will actually create a net increase of overall staff,” Ash told reporters.

Derek Miller, the health authority’s chief operating officer, said it has also added 116 beds in Regina and Saskatoon to help ease pressures.

And he said work is underway to add up to 400 more beds in both cities.

“That’s what these plans are all about,” Miller told reporters.

“They’re about addressing the root causes and some of the day-to-day challenges that sometimes our teams have to deal with. (The plan) is going to have an impact and we’re already seeing the benefits of some of that.”

Miller didn’t say how often fire marshals have been called over the past three months. Regina’s General and Pasqua hospitals each broke the fire code in December for overcrowding.

“We have taken those reports very seriously, and our teams have worked very hard over the past few months to ensure that we’re fire safe and compliant,” Miller said.

Zambory said the action plans have not “made a dent” into improving emergency rooms.

She said plans to hire more staff and add more beds were announced before 2020, but the health authority is only getting to them now as the COVID-19 pandemic had caused delays.

“It has not made a difference to the front line whatsoever. It’s gotten way worse,” she said.

Zambory has asked the province to collaborate with the union and come up with solutions.

The province has declined to do that and has instead launched a separate recruitment agency. It has offered incentives, including additional pay for people to work in rural areas.

Provincial Auditor Tara Clemett has said the province needs to hire 2,000 health-care workers over the next five years to meet demands.

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