Nova Scotia

Patients 'crammed' in hallways as Halifax hospital overcrowding intensifies: union

A union representing some nurses in Halifax says it's putting together a working group to address concerns over patient and staff safety after recurring overcrowding at the region's largest hospital. Patients at the Halifax Infirmary are being "crammed into hallways" or "double- and triple-bunked in rooms" in some cases, the NSGEU said Tuesday in a news release.

NSGEU says nurses concerned for the safety of patients and frontline staff

The NSGEU, which represents some Halifax nurses, has created a working group to discuss repeated cases of overcrowding at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre. (CBC)

A union representing some nurses in Halifax says it's putting together a working group to address concerns over patient and staff safety after recurring overcrowding at the region's largest hospital.

Patients at the Halifax Infirmary are being "crammed into hallways" or "double- and triple-bunked in rooms" in some cases, the NSGEU said Tuesday in a news release.

"The nurses are very concerned about the safety of the patients," Sandra Mullen, acting union president, said in an interview.

"If someone crashes and needs an oxygen cart and they can't get those into those particular spaces, [the nurses have] raised serious concerns about that."

A so-called code census protocol is implemented during instances of overcrowding, including last week at the Halifax Infirmary. The code is meant to ease the burden on the emergency department by moving non-emergency patients to other units and having other units speed up discharges.

The union said the Nova Scotia Health Authority strictly enforces a directive requiring patients to be admitted to different areas of the hospital even if there's no space for them during a code census — something the NSGEU said is unacceptable and puts patients and frontline staff at risk.

'Very serious concerns'

Mullen said patients could end up being put in rooms that don't meet their needs or aren't equipped with oxygen equipment, alarm bells or even bedside tables to eat a meal.

Concerns from hospital staff began pouring in late last week that code census was causing a "major disruption," Mullen said. Union members met Monday night to discuss the situation. 

"They were moving patients to places that were not a proper room, they were ... tripling in a room set for two beds. They were putting in a third [patient], things like that."

Staff have also said they're not given enough time to relocate patients to other areas of the hospital.

"We understand from our members the directive for the code census has changed over the past number of days and that they have a limited amount of time ... to move patients to upper floors, and that has caused the overcrowding," Mullen said.

Mullen said a union meeting would be held Friday to discuss recommendations to put forward to the hospital. 

In a news release, the union said it would be sending letters outlining members' concerns to the provincial health minister, the premier and licensing bodies.

Patient units sometimes hallways

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said in a statement that "hospital overcrowding is not a new issue but has been more frequent at several regional hospitals and the QEII Health Sciences Centre over the past couple of weeks."

Brian Butt, health services director for the central zone, told CBC News overcrowding means some patients have ended up in hallways instead of rooms. 

"We ... have identified hall spaces with appropriate barriers and what have you where we do care for patients in hallways, but usually it was in a room that was re-purposed for something else," said Butt.

He said assessments are always performed "so we can provide safe care."


Have you or your loved ones experienced overcrowding in Halifax-area hospitals? Share your experiences by emailing cbcns@cbc.ca

With files from Jerry West and Tom Murphy