A shortage of nursing staff and an emergency room running well over capacity at the Lakeshore Hospital is a dangerous situation that foreshadows "critical" problems should there be a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the West Island nurses' union says.
The emergency room at the West Island hospital was at 135 per cent capacity on Friday evening, said Elizabeth Rich, the vice-president of workplace health and security for the union, with eight nurses on duty and an additional nurse there for orientation.
"The normal ratio for 100 per cent capacity is 14 nurses and seven LTNs — licensed practical nurses," Rich said. "And we only had eight nurses last night. So I felt that it's not safe."
In a statement issued Friday, the union asked people to seek care at other emergency rooms in the region, and said the situation threatens quality of care and safety.
Rich credited the regional health agency, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, for working hard to deal with staffing issues and overall safety during the first wave, but the underlying problem with shortages persists. She said many nurses have left the profession altogether, either as a consequence of being overworked or because they no longer felt they could do their job safely.
"We have nineteen posts that are vacant without replacement. I mean there's nobody on them, so they're vacant all the time," she said. "And I think people don't seem to be supported and they're scared for their licenses and they find this dangerous."
That exodus is exacerbating an already precarious situation as a potential second wave looms, Rich said, and François Legault's government needs to take action.
"If the government doesn't sit down and really realize the problem is that professional nurses, nurses assistants and RTs — respiratory therapists — are in high demand, it's going to be very hard, the second wave," she said.
Rich praised the government's efforts to hire more orderlies to staff the province's long-term care residences, but said similar actions were needed on the nursing front.
Public health agency 'monitoring the situation'
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé referred questions on to the regional public health agency.
In a statement emailed to CBC, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal said they are "closely monitoring the situation at the Lakeshore emergency this weekend to ensure that we maintain services to the population in a safe manner."
The spokesperson wrote that public health executives were on hand at the hospital to support nursing staff, and also has an arrangement with St. Mary's Hospital to move staff to help with immediate needs.
Unfortunately, Rich said, St. Mary's is in a similar staffing situation this weekend.
"They're missing ... four nurses today, minus four nurses this evening and minus two nurses tonight," Rick said Saturday.
The CIUSSS statement said the agency is working in collaboration with the union on the problems this weekend, and also established a joint committee with the union in July to deal with staffing shortages.
"Like other health establishments in Quebec, our main challenge even before the pandemic was the lack of personnel, the statement says. "It is our intention to continue our recruiting efforts as well as our work with the union to find concrete solutions aimed at improving the situation at the Lakeshore emergency."