A former nurse and nursing professor says Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital has a number of problems when it comes to patient care and she blames recent government cuts.
Penny Ericson spent a significant amount of time in the Fredericton hospital while her husband, Carl, was being treated before his death earlier this year.
She outlined her concerns and observations in a lengthy document that she sent to officials at the Horizon Health Network, the Department of Health and the New Brunswick Nurses Union.
Ericson said she was shocked at the lack of proper cleaning in the hospital’s hallways, washrooms and cafeterias. She said the problem goes beyond the staff assigned to the work.
"People are doing jobs for which they are not properly supervised. They come to work to do a good job. But they don't have systems in place to let them do that," Ericson told the CBC's Information Morning Fredericton.
"The housekeeping staff were friendly, they would attend to my requests, however, they don't have the ability to properly clean the environment because they haven't been told what needs to be cleaned and they don't have the equipment to clean it properly."
'So they have saved money but they've saved money, as far as I'm concerned, in the wrong places because they've compromised quality.'— Penny Ericson
Ericson said she blames the health authority’s board for not providing experienced supervisors to ensure the work is done properly.
"I put everything squarely on the shoulders of the board. The hospital has focused on saving money because the government has put them in that position," she said.
"The government has said, 'You must live within your means, you must live within a tight budget.' So they have saved money, but they've saved money, as far as I'm concerned, in the wrong places because they've compromised quality."
Patient safety, quality health care 'top priorities'
Health Minister Ted Flemming said he appreciates the time Ericson took to share her experience.
"Improving our health-care system requires the participation of everyone involved – physicians, staff, nurses and patients," he said in an emailed statement to CBC News late Tuesday afternoon.
Ericson's work is being reviewed by the department and the Horizon Health Network, Flemming said. Her experiences "highlight the opportunities for process improvement and performance excellence in all aspects of care," he said.
Horizon Health Network officials were not available for an interview on Tuesday. But in an emailed statement, president and chief executive officer John McGarry confirmed he had received a copy of Ericson's observations about her husband's care.
"Last Thursday I responded to Mrs. Ericson by thanking her for bringing her concerns to my attention along with an offer to meet with her," McGarry said.
"I am sincere when I say that patient safety and quality health care are top priorities and I take all patients' concerns very seriously," he said.
"Over the coming weeks I will be reviewing Mrs. Ericson’s concerns with my staff and I look forward to speaking with her in detail."
The Horizon Health Network announced earlier this year plans to cut 131 jobs as a part of a broader plan to reduce spending by almost $22 million in 2013-14.
In April, McGarry said the organization's financial challenge is "substantial" but that "less money does not have to mean a reduction in the quality of the services we provide."
The provincial government's health-care budget in 2013-14 is $2.5 billion, representing zero growth over last year.
Document meant as a 'teaching tool'
The New Brunswick Nurses Union is also reviewing a copy of Ericson's 27-page document, called "Carl Ericson's Last Class," says president Marilyn Quinn.
"It is essential for patients and families to share feedback about their hospital care experience(s) to ensure our health care system is patient focused," Quinn said in a statement.
The health council is already in the process of soliciting patient feedback through the Acute Care Survey, she said.
NBNU also plans to meet with Horizon Health Network officials "to discuss their process of validating patient and family concerns in order to incorporate changes if required," Quinn said.
Ericson is a former nurse and a nursing professor at the University of New Brunswick. She also ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in the 2003 provincial election.
"The following report has been written as a teaching tool as well as a report to highlight the need for changes," she states in the document.
"Carl was a teacher. It is a hope that this 'last class' will teach those in administrative positions to make changes that will be consistent with the goals of Horizon Health," she wrote.
"There were many examples of good care during Carl’s hospitalization, but this report’s focus is on the shortcomings observed by those involved. The report has been written in the best interest of providing constructive criticism that may lead to enhanced patient care."
Ericson’s document also stressed it has been created "as a learning/teaching tool, not as evidence for litigation."