Quebec's workplace safety board (CNESST) has ruled that a hospital in the Eastern Townships failed to ensure adequate staffing and proper management in its emergency room.
The ruling comes following a complaint filed by nurses at the Brome-Missisquoi-Perkins Hospital in Cowansville, Que. last November about being overworked in the emergency room.
"We really had warning signs — resignations, departures, many people on disability insurance," said Stéphanie Boulet, interim president of the Eastern Townships health-care professionals' union (SPSCE-FIQ).
"We also had heartbreaking messages from our members, who work in very difficult conditions, who said that they were not capable of providing safe care."
A year later, the CNESST has issued its report saying the regional health agency violated two occupational health and safety laws.
The board says the CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS did not put in place measures to evaluate the risks associated with work overload and it also did not adopt any mitigation measures for its workers.
Union's call to reduce hours of operation refused
Boulet says the situation has reached a critical point, as there are currently 75 unfilled nursing shifts in the hospital's emergency room this month alone.
The union has proposed to reduce the ER's operating hours at night.
"We are really putting a team of workers on their knees to keep the services open, but we are not bringing in any help or new personnel who could give this team stability and some breathing room," Boulet said.
"I don't think we can get through the holiday season without bringing in concrete help with nurses at the emergency room level."
Patricia Bourgault, the director of nursing services at the CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS, says some solutions were put in place last summer, but she admits that there is still an urgency to act.
"This hospital has a very specific need for manpower," she said.
Bourgault says concrete actions are already in place, such as the addition of evening and night staff, as well as an extra staffer to help during the day.
The population has a right to this emergency service and we will assure that it will remain in place."
- Patricia Bourgault, director of nursing services at the CIUSSS de l'Estrie-Chus
Now, she says, the hospital is now working on reorganizing some services "to ensure that the staff has everything they need to ensure the quality of care."
As for the union's request to reduce the emergency room's hours of operations, that is not being considered at all, said Bourgault.
"We are working on other strategies. The population has a right to this emergency service and we will assure that it will remain in place."
In anticipation of the holiday season, Bourgault said additional personnel will be brought in and that there will be internal consultations.
"Very early in the morning, if we see that the emergency room is overflowing, we will put measures in place. We can ask nurses from other units to come and help out, but we can also ask other units in the hospital to help out by taking in patients," she said.