New Brunswick

Staffing at Restigouche Hospital Centre reached 'danger' level in fall

Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne says Restigouche Hospital Centre is safe. But the health authority's own metrics on staffing tell a different story.

Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne maintains the hospital is safe

Staffing reached a 'danger' level at the Restigouche Hospital Centre as recently as October, figures show. (Radio-Canada)

Vitalité Health Network CEO Gilles Lanteigne is confident patients at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton are safe.

But the health authority's own staffing numbers tell a different story.

Staffing ratios at the Restigouche Hospital Centre reached a level that Vitalité describes as a "danger" one-third of the time in October, the most recent month for which statistics have been made available.

When staffing hits a "danger" level, the hospital isn't completing the majority of nursing care, and patients who have severe mental health issues don't receive any therapy.

That means those patients won't make any gains in terms of their treatment plans, according to a document produced by Vitalité.

"At that point, the staff is really not engaged in any way in helping the patients," ombud Charles Murray said on Wednesday.

"They're really engaged in kind of a survival mode of making sure that people get enough food to eat and that incidents don't break out."

Provincial ombud Charles Murray doesn't believe the Restigouche Hospital Centre is safe. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

The hospital achieved a staffing level described as "normal" three per cent of the time in October, figures show. It reached a "minimal" level of staffing, where patients also don't receive any therapy, 36 per cent of the time.

In September, staffing was at the "danger" level 36 per cent of the time.

"Despite all the current efforts, for the majority of team days, the [Restigouche Hospital Centre] is not able to ensure the optimal quality of clinical services given, and for nearly a third of these team days, the safety of clients is an important issue," the document says in French.

'Not where we want to be'

Team days is a metric used by Vitalité to determine whether it's meeting staffing requirements, according to Murray.

It accounts for a number of different shifts worked by care professionals in different units across the hospital.

Vitalité's CEO says the health authority did another staffing analysis that shows the hospital has enough staff to ensure patient safety. That analysis hasn't been made public.

He admitted it's concerning that patients frequently aren't receiving therapy.

"We're not where we want to be, that's for sure," Lanteigne said.

"We know that we have a plan, we're seeing some results here."

Lanteigne cited the hospital's decision to close 40 of its 140 beds, shutting down a unit most recently in November, as proof that patients are safe.

"There's significantly less people at the hospital than there were in August," he said.

Vitalité Health Network president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne says the health authority has more work to do at Restigouche Hospital Centre. (CBC)

He also said staff are using physical force less often on patients who trigger "Code White" responses. The code is called when patients are harming themselves or others.

In a scathing report released last week, Murray highlighted understaffing as being at the root of chronic problems that resulted in patients at Restigouche being "mistreated" and given "inadequate care."

In at least one case, the ombud believes the gaps at the hospital "may have resulted in the premature death of a patient" in 2018.

He recommended the hospital shrink its mandate and called for an external review of what's going on at Restigouche. The provincial government hired George Weber, a mental health care consultant, to review the facility and Murray's report.

Patients, staff not safe, ombud says

Murray disagrees that Restigouche is safe. He said staff have been working in an environment where they don't feel safe.

"When we speak to them, that's why they seem so stressed and overworked and emotional," he said. 

While closing units has likely helped somewhat, Murray is skeptical that staffing ratios have improved significantly since October.

"To now say that everything is under control and it's all fine speaks to one of two things, in my opinion," Murray said.

"Either a very dramatic turnaround, without the addition of additional psychiatric help. Or the fact that the internal information flows inside the network just aren't reliable."