Low staff forced Health Sciences Centre to close half of emergency beds over weekend

An emergency doctor at the Health Sciences Centre says last weekend was the most short-staffed the emergency department has ever been, leading to half of the beds being closed. Mike Albanese has more on the nursing shortage that caused it.

By Mike Albanese

The emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre were forced to close half of their emergency beds over the weekend as it was extremely understaffed

“This is not safe, this is not right.”

HSC’s emergency department has 69 beds, and needs a baseline of 24 nurses, but had only eight scheduled according to Manitoba Nurses Union President Darlene Jackson.

“To close half the beds in a department this size with the scope they provide, is very unusual,” explained Jackson.

A spokesperson for Shared Health says nearly 150 patients visited the emergency department on Saturday and Sunday, which is near the daily average of the last 4 months.

Wait times didn’t stray from recent norms, which Shared Health attributed to 24 nurses who picked up shifts over the weekend while others extended their shifts. Managers also worked the floor to support patient care.

“There were 20 workload staffing forms filled out at HSC, with 73 nurses signing them,” said Jackson.

Jackson says a workload staffing form is filled out when nurses finish a shift where they believe they did not meet standards of care. She says 73 nurses signing the sheet over the weekend showcases how thinly spread they were in the emergency department.

CityNews spoke to an emergency doctor who worked this past weekend who, for fear of repercussion, did not want to appear on camera.

They said, “Every time I go to work I find out another nurse I’ve worked with for a long time is leaving. I’m not kidding you, almost every shift that happens.

“What that speaks to is that even though nurses love working there, love the patient care we provide, love the staff that we work with, they just can’t continue to work under these circumstances, where every day they stay for overtime and don’t get breaks. They’re exhausted and you can’t maintain that.”

The doctor says they’ve never seen that many emergency beds closed ever, not even during the height of COVID.

Shared Health says for the week ahead, nurse staffing challenges in the department will remain significant but not as severe as this past weekend – filling holes through staff call-outs, offering overtime, and having managers working on the floor again.

Jackson says until Manitoba can work on nurse retention, the health care system will continue to bleed nurses, and this weekend will no longer be considered a ‘one-off’.

“I can understand a nurse doing a 16-hour shift as a one-off, but to be mandated to do them repeatedly in a stretch, four or five days in a row, that is almost inhumane.”

The vacancy rate for nurses at HSC’s emergency department is currently at 32.3 per cent.

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