Overworked nurses report medical errors

Documents show nurses at St. Boniface General Hospital neonatal and obstetrics units are reporting medical errors as a result of being overworked.
Nurses say overwork has led to medical errors in neonatal and obstetrics units. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Nurses in neonatal and obstetrics units at St. Boniface General Hospital are reporting medication errors, missing patient vital signs, and other workload-related problems.

Documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request show nurses working on the obstetrics, gynaecology and neonatal units at St. Boniface are working double shifts, missing breaks, and often feeling overworked.

A total of 84 heavy workload reports were filed by nurses on those units in the four months between Dec 1, 2011 and April 11, 2012.

The reports are used as a tool for nurses to report workload and staffing concerns they believe may jeopardize patient well-being. In 63 instances nurses said insufficient staff led to issues in patient care.

In 40 instances nurses said they felt burnt-out and exhausted. Twenty reports complained of patient overcrowding.

No social support

Nurses said they missed patient vital signs, were unable to deliver psychological and social support, and sometimes made mistakes delivering medications.

Chief Nursing Officer Wendy Rudnick admits there's a problem. "Clearly there is a situation where there is a misbalance between what is the capacity and what is the demand."

Rudnick said St. Boniface hospital is built to handle about 5,400 new births each year but staff are delivering between 200 to 400 more babies than that.

"St. Boniface hospital is a victim of its own success," she said. "St. Boniface has up-to-date private rooms for women, and that's what women desire when they're having a baby," said Rudnick.

Just a number

Patient Bonnie Brask said her experience giving birth at St. Boniface in January was disappointing.

"I just sort of felt that the hospital was just so busy, that there wasn't time for me," said Brask. "I felt like I wasn't important. It was very overwhelming and very disappointing."

Brask said she felt more like a number than a person and doesn't want others to experience the same thing.

"It's supposed to be one of the best experiences of your life," she said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is aware of the situation and a new women's hospital at HSC in the coming years is expected to help alleviate the problem.

Meantime, staff are working to shift some deliveries to HSC where a new neonatal unit is set to open in the next few months, and one nurse has been added to triage at St. Boniface.

But for new moms like Bonnie Brask, news of a hospital unit with staff feeling burned out is disturbing.

"For the health of me and for the health of my son and our safety to have someone just done to the point of complete exhaustion is hard for them, and it's hard for us to get the best care — that's worrisome," she said.