The death of a man while waiting for care in a Fredericton emergency room has prompted Horizon Health to make changes to staffing at some hospitals in the province.
The health authority has launched a pilot project, bringing what it's calling patient service workers into the emergency department waiting rooms of five of its biggest hospitals.
"Essentially, these health-care workers will be in the emergency departments to monitor the status — the health status — of those individuals who are waiting for care," said Margaret Melanson, interim president and CEO of Horizon on CBC Radio's Information Morning in the Summer.
"And having the ability to quickly move to the triage nurse to report if there is any patient who is in distress or reporting any decline in their condition, increasing pain or a need for them to be reassessed in terms of their priority status."
Melanson said there will be patient service workers around 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the emergency department waiting rooms in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Miramichi and Waterville.
Melanson said a licenced practical nurse often performed this role in the past, however recent staffing shortages required them to work other roles in the emergency department.
"So at this time, what we have done is augment the people who are in these waiting rooms now carrying out this work, so it's not just an LPN, it is also patient service workers," she said.
"And fortunately, over the summer, we have a large number of nursing students who are very well prepared to be able to take vital signs and carry out these comfort measures and interactions with patients that we spoke about."
Melanson said the move is directly related to the death of a man while waiting for care at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton on July 12.
The incident prompted Horizon to undertake a review, and later that week, led Premier Blaine Higgs to fire John Dornan from his role as president and CEO of Horizon Health Network.
He also withdrew the boards of directors for both Horizon and Vitalité Health Network and replaced them with individual trustees.
Attention needed for 'root' of long wait times
John Staples was in the emergency department waiting room at the Chalmers when he saw an elderly man waiting in discomfort before appearing to fall asleep and stop breathing.
He thinks any action to improve health-care in the province is positive.
"Definitely the pilot project that they're putting in place, had it been in place the night of that incident, of the gentleman's death, it could have made a difference? I don't know," said Staples.
"But to have somebody checking on people and just the reassurance alone, I think, will make a positive effect in the waiting room."
At the same time, Staples said the move seems to only address the symptoms of what's plaguing health care in New Brunswick, and not the root cause.
"Why are people waiting in waiting rooms for eight, 10, 12 hours at a time and not getting the medical care that they need," he said.
"If we don't have the personnel available to help those who need help, well, again, we need to go back and look at the root problem."
Melanson said Horizon plans to hire more people over the summer to be ready to take on the role once summer students go back to school.
She said the intent is to make the pilot project permanent, and said they'll assess the effect it's had on patient care at the end of the summer.