Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s emergency department has been chronically understaffed for more than a year, with Fraser Health resorting to flying in out-of-province nurses from Alberta and Ontario, according to the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU).
BCNU president Gayle Duteil, who toured the hospital over the weekend, compared conditions for nurses in the ER to that of a MASH unit in a war zone.
But she said the lack of resources is nothing new.
“It’s astounding that the chair of Fraser Health has allowed it to get to this point,” she said. “This has been a long-standing deplorable problem.”
When Duteil visited this weekend, she said there were dozens of admitted patients in the ER waiting for placement elsewhere. Three people on stretchers were in an ambulance bay.
The nurses’ union says that as of Wednesday, the hospital was operating at 127 per cent of capacity, with 41 extra patients in the emergency department.
The conditions, Duteil said, have been making it difficult for Fraser Health to hire a full compliment of workers.
Currently, she said, there are only 56 emergency room nurses on staff. A full compliment is 88. To make up the difference, Duteil said Fraser Health is bringing in contract nurses as well as some from other provinces.
Duteil said the staffing situation is not new, and that the health authority has been working with the union on the issue for 18 months.
The emergency department has been under scrutiny in recent weeks following the deaths of two patients – three-year-old Nimrat Gill and 56-year-old Mary Louis Murphy – who died shortly after being sent home from the ER.
The issue was brought up in the provincial legislature earlier this week, with the NDP asking why the government and local health authorities haven’t addressed persistent issues with overcrowding.
Health Minister Terry Lake said wait times at the hospital are below the provincial average.
The News has requested an interview with Lake, but has been told he is not available to speak on the issue.
Pick up Friday’s edition of the Abbotsford News for a special feature on questions surrounding Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s emergency room crowding and congestion.