Nurses at Montreal's Lakeshore General Hospital are calling on Quebec's health minister to fix the "extremely worrisome situation" in the West Island hospital's emergency room, particularly by implementing recommendations made months ago in a report that shed light on the issues plaguing the beleaguered ER.
In a letter sent to Christian Dubé on Monday, the nurses' union at Lakeshore expressed desperation, saying no concrete measures have been put in place following a report prepared last October, which described the ER as a "ticking time bomb," courtesy of multiple unfilled positions, increasingly sick patients and a lack of space.
"As much as we push the employer, as much as they try to put things into place … it is not working at all and things are just getting worse and worse," said Kristina Hoare, vice-president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) in the West Island, the union advocating for workers at Lakeshore.
The October report made 14 recommendations, including hiring 30 more staff in the six months (by April) and making practical changes, such as ensuring all ER patients are in a location visible to staff.
In a statement to CBC News, the West Island regional health authority said it is taking the situation at Lakeshore "very seriously" and has taken action to minimize the impact of the staffing shortage on workers and patients.
That includes posting more than 30 positions for nurses in the ER, involving managers to fill shifts, moving staff from units to the ER when possible and implementing an overcapacity plan, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal said.
Still, Hoare says the combination of staff shortages and work overload, which the union has been denouncing for years, continues to impede hospital staff's efforts to provide safe care to the West Island population.
The letter to Dubé includes examples of recent alarming situations in the ER, including a night in November where only one triage nurse was available for 40 patients. That night, a patient experiencing a heart attack was forced to wait 33 minutes to be seen, the letter said, and he ultimately needed to be transferred to another hospital for open-heart surgery.
Nurses held a sit-in in December in response to the number of missing staff and an overflowing ER. As of Wednesday afternoon, the ER occupancy rate was 158 per cent.
Hoare says despite the CIUSSS's efforts, it's time for Dubé to take action and responsibility for the hospital.
"He is the health minister; his role is to assure proper care across the province and that the public of Quebec get the care that they deserve" she said.
'Not an ideal situation': premier
The call for action comes on the heels of a sit-in at another Montreal hospital in the east end on Monday over untenable working conditions, mainly forced overtime.
Nurses at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital had threatened to resign en masse if changes were not made to the unit's management team. Dubé was forced to intervene and on Tuesday, the head of the hospital's emergency room was reassigned.
At a news conference Wednesday, Premier François Legault said the situation is "tough" in many hospitals across the province.
"We don't have enough nurses, it's not because the money is not available, it's because it takes time to train those nurses," he said.
Legault said it will take time to hire all the nurses needed at hospitals like Lakeshore and Maisonneuve-Rosemont. In the meantime, he said the government is negotiating with professional orders to try and delegate certain tasks to workers other than nurses in order to alleviate some of the pressure on them.
"It's not an ideal situation … Unfortunately there's no miracle. I'm open to all kinds of proposals," he said.
Health system 'at the point of no return'
At a news conference Tuesday, Dubé placed part of the blame on the CEOs of different regional health authorities where hospitals are struggling, questioning why they haven't been able to implement proper measures.
"Maybe not everyone had the same resources or the same capacity to do it or the knowledge," he said. "It's working in Laval. It's working in some 30 hospitals. Find me the solutions to make it work."
But Hoare said what's going on at the CIUSSS is clearly not working for Lakeshore, and she's demanding Dubé intervene the same way he did at Maisonneuve-Rosemont.
"Solutions need to be put into place now because we're at the point of no return with our health-care system and it's cracking absolutely everywhere," she said.
The nurses' union says Dubé has yet to respond to their letter.