Increasing demand at some of Saskatchewan’s largest hospitals is prompting the union representing the nurses to seek solutions, which includes a defined task force.
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) president Tracy Zambory said the province is experiencing the worst nursing crisis in decades.
“It’s a very scary situation,” Zambory said.
“There is not the time, there is not the capability and there is not the staff to give safe patient care in most of our facilities in the province anymore.”
SUN members have spoken out about an increase in violence, saying they’re getting spit on or hit regularly.
The union said last Thursday, the Regina General Hospital went into bypass mode. Many emergency room patients were sent to the Pasqua Hospital because there was no room for them at the general.
“We’re hearing from members that bypass at the general is becoming more regular. How often would this have happened? Probably three or four times perhaps in the last number of weeks,” Zambory said.
She said that particular bypass lasted about three hours, adding it was the result of at least 85 patients waiting in the emergency room for care.
“There was a complete backlog and severe over capacity,” she said.
According to SUN, the Yorkton Regional Health Centre has also experienced bypass in its intensive care unit.
Zambory said there are a number of reasons why hospitals are seeing such a demand right now.
She said nursing shortages cause teams to be down two or more registered nurses daily – in some instances she said they’re down six or more. That leads to backups in emergency departments.
In addition, Zambory said so many people in the province are without a family doctor that they have to attend emergency rooms to get help.
CTV News reached out to the Saskatchewan Health Authority for comment on bypass concerns at the Regina General Hospital, but the health authority deferred comment to the provincial government.
To help rectify the situation, SUN is asking the province to implement a nursing task force. It would consult with nurses working in the profession right now, and would inquire with nurses who have left, retired or cut back hours to see what it would take to get them back full time.
“We’ve already given them enough background on how we could do it. We have a framework put together. Those conversations can happen now and we can get going,” she said.
Saskatchewan’s health minister said he and the minister of rural and remote health have been consulting with frontline healthcare workers over the past several months, but said is open to proposals from groups like SUN.
“A task force is usually set up for a very specific issue,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said.
“We’ve listened to the individuals that were out there on the front line and that’s how we developed our human resource plan based on some of the feedback that we got from them. Are we always looking for feedback? Absolutely.”
Merriman said 72 graduate nursing students hired in Saskatchewan since December, as well as recent nursing hires from the Philippines, will help the healthcare system going forward.
The NDP opposition said there needs to be more focus on retaining nurses, calling the capacity issues at Regina General Hospital worrisome.
“It’s deeply concerning when you have the largest hospital in the capital city on bypass. It’s part of ongoing concerns that we’ve seen reported,” NDP leader Carla Beck said.
“This is just an extension of the culmination of healthcare providers working consistently understaffed, working extra hours and working short. It’s continuing to burn healthcare workers out. That, unfortunately, is a very bad situation for those health care workers but obviously a terrible situation for anyone needing care.