Crisis at Campbellton hospital slowly improves

The number of patients on stretchers at the Campbellton Regional Hospital is down to 10 from more than 40 last week, says the head of the Vitalité Health Network.

Overcrowding forced Vitalité to announce that, as of Friday, new patients would be redirected to Bathurst and some surgeries and clinics would have to be cancelled.

The emergency department reopened Sunday and president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne said he expects a decision will be made Tuesday about the reopening of other services.

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard says eight of the hospital patients have been moved into homes since last Thursday and efforts to find solutions to the state of emergency are ongoing.

Some of the patients have been relocated to the Campbellton Nursing Home, which had 40 vacant beds because of understaffing.

But staffing there continues to be a challenge, so others have been placed in special care. Some, who were willing, have been transferred to Edmundston, said Shephard, who was in Campbellton on Monday to meet with nursing home and health officials.

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"It's collaborative effort all around and everyone is pulling together to try to maximize every opportunity," she said.

The longest the minister of health wants these sanctions in place for the hospital is one week, according to Shephard.

"And so I want to be assured that we can mobilize in one week to do as much as we can."

Shephard met Monday morning with Tom Mann, who was appointed trustee of the Campbellton Nursing Home in August.

The facility had been so chronically understaffed and under-utilized, the board of directors was dismissed.

Seven staff have been hired since then and "there's been a huge cultural shift," said Shephard. "So we hope that that's going to inspire others to come as well."

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Mann said he's been working to stabilize the place by recruiting new workers to safely manage about 63 residents without risking employee burnout.

To fill the remaining 37 beds, he said he needs more people.

In September, he asked the health authority to consider moving some hospital employees over to the nursing home.

"We have encouraged Vitalité to consider the number of nursing hours that they're providing from a hospital model, which is a much higher number than is required in a nursing home model," he said. "Somewhere in between the two models, there may be staffing at the Campbellton regional hospital that would be able to move, incrementally, with groups of patients to become residents of the nursing home."

Mann said he needs as many as 32 more workers to operate at full capacity.

That would include four to five registered nurses, five to nine licensed practical nurses and as many as 18 resident attendants.

"Because it's 24-hour care and there needs to be a replacement factor in the event of sickness or vacation," said Mann.

"As much as we talk about recruitment, there's an equal piece of the puzzle that falls under retention."

Shephard said staffing continues to be the biggest challenge as the population ages.

The government is moving forward with ways to bring registered nurses into the system more quickly, she said. It's also working on hiring and retaining licensed practical nurses and resident attendants, and looking at the potential for on-the-job training to help address employment challenges more quickly.

In the meantime, the province needs to better utilize special care homes, maximize home care and do more to encourage families to keep loved ones at home when possible, said Shepard.

"Sometimes people don't realize it's an option and sometimes even physicians don't realize it's an option. So we need to ensure that together between physicians, family members, or social workers, everyone is on the same page and understanding what options are available to them. And particularly in the north, we have to maximize every single option."