The head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union says a woman who spoke out this week about her aging father's treatment at the province's largest emergency room is echoing what her members say.

Jennifer Scurlock said she was shocked to see that her father, 78, developed bedsores during the five days while he was treated at the Health Sciences Centre ER for pneumonia. She said he was hungry, thirsty and disoriented, and that the socks he wore when he was admitted had not been changed for days.

Scurlock said her father was forced to stay in the ER because no beds were available for him, and that she does not blame the staff for conditions that she says are beyond her control.

Jennifer Scurlock

Jennifer Scurlock said she does not blame staff for problems her father encountered during five days at the ER of the Health Sciences Centre. (CBC)

Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward said nurses find it heartbreaking when their patients do not get all the care they need.

"They know that things are falling through the cracks," Forward told CBC News.

"They said to me, they said to their employer, that there are things that they are missing. They don't want this to happen. They want something done, and we are trying to work with the employer to see if we can improve that."

Forward said the solution must include enough in-patient and long-term beds so that patients do not have to be crowded into emergency rooms.

In the meantime, she said, more registered nurses are needed on the ER floor to prevent problems from developing.

"It is not safe. Everybody knows it is not safe. So let's add some registered nurses to the department."

Nurses in tears at ER discussion

She said the issue prompted emotional responses at a meeting she held with ER nurses.

"It's horrible," she said. "I can tell in that first meeting that I had with members many of them were in tears because they said they can't do what they became a registered nurse to do."

Eastern Health said it cannot comment on individual patients, but in a statement said that circumstances can change within the Health Sciences Centre.

"The number of patients waiting in the emergency department for a bed fluctuates regularly," the authority said in a statement to CBC News.

"Patients are prioritized for the admitted beds based on several considerations, the primary being the medical needs of each patient. As such, a patient’s length of stay in the emergency department may be impacted by the type of inpatient beds required, whether or not the patient requires a private room for medical reasons, and the availability of inpatient beds."

Eastern Health said it has noticed an increase in waiting times for an inpatient bed since January.

So far this year, 13.2 per cent of patients have waited more than 24 hours to be moved to in-patient bed, above the 9.2 per cent average since last April.

Forward said she is meeting with Eastern Health next week to talk about overcrowding and staffing at emergency departments.