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Hospital staff stressed by patient over-crowding, CUPE says

The union representing hospital staff says overcrowding at Health Sciences North in Sudbury is so bad, patients are being put in rooms meant for bathing.

'We're seeing patients coming in with a variety of conditions in fairly acute distress'

A spokesperson for the union representing hospital staff says he's never seen so much overcrowding at Sudbury's Health Sciences North as in the last few weeks. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)
Overcrowding at Health Sciences North is becoming a serious problem. The CBC's Kate Rutherford spoke about the problem with Dave Shelefontiuk of CUPE 1623 which represents a number of workers at the hospital. 6:10

The union representing hospital staff says overcrowding at Health Sciences North in Sudbury is so bad that patients are being put in rooms meant for bathing.

The spokesperson for CUPE Local 1623 which represents porters, housekeepers, and clerks, said staff are incredibly stressed because they can't keep up with the patient flow.

Dave Shelefontiuk said patients are being put in spaces that aren't meant to house them, including the corridors.
A CUPE spokesperson says the Sudbury hospital's corridors are lined with gurneys.

"And to the point where, I believe, Monday, the Fire Marshall was in there and told them, 'you know, next time you build a hospital, build one that all of the patients that are needed to be in the place, you can't have them in the hallways'," he said.

Shelefontiuk blamed the Liberal government for five years of budgetary freezes, and noted the recent increase in hospital funding in the provincial budget doesn't even make up for inflation during that time.

Emergency overflow

In response to the complaints, David McNeil, vice-president of patient services and chief nursing executive at Health Sciences North, said there has been a significant surge in patients since the beginning of March, and so it's been a challenge to get patients into proper rooms. Hospital staff are trying their best to manage with the demand, he added. 

"We generally board patients in the [emergency department] as the system backs up. When those numbers in the emergency department become too great, we have to begin to move patients into lounge areas of the hospital," he said. 

"This week, on a couple of occasions, we had to place patients into hallways so that we could relieve pressure within the emergency department. Because we had significant acuity of patients coming in through our [emergency department], we had to ensure that we were doing our best to manage those care needs."

McNeil said the surge in patients can be due to a number of factors, such as morbidity and the city's aging population. 

"We're seeing patients coming in with a variety of conditions in fairly acute distress requiring hospital-based services," he said. "Some of them for a short period of time, and unfortunately for a long period of time. It seems to be a trend in the northeast." 

Working 'upstream'

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas has written to the Ministry of Health about over-crowding at the hospital. She said a way to solve this issue is looking at how to make home care and primary care better in the city. 

The NDP health critic added that at the same time, hospitals should get more funding to help accommodate the influx of patients. 

"You have to work upstream to make sure that those parts in our healthcare system keep people healthy in their homes and out of the hospital," she said. 

"A lot of people in Sudbury and Nickel Belt still don't have access. They don't have a physician, they don't have a nurse practitioner. So when they need healthcare services, they end up in our hospital."

In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health said they are taking steps to help improve the situation with the North East Local Health Integration Network. Together, they are working to get eight behavioural beds in Sudbury's long term care homes for alternate level care patients at HSN. 

"The LHIN will also be providing additional funding to ensure that these patients have the appropriate level of care and are supported," said David Jensen, a media spokesperson with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Jensen added that, to alleviate some of the pressures on the emergency department, the LHIN invested an additional $650,000 last year in assisted living for high-risk seniors, to provide more patients with care in their own homes.

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