Nova Scotia

'Very unorganized' hospital setting leaves Halifax surgery patient feeling unsafe

Mandy Grant says during her recent stay at the Halifax Infirmary, she was exposed to a janitor and that her pain medications were forgotten about three times.

Mandy Grant says she was exposed to a janitor and that her pain meds were forgotten 3 times

The emergency entrance of the Halifax Infirmary on Robie Street in Halifax. One recent surgery patient says the hospital seemed disorganized. (Robert Short/CBC)

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman says she was left feeling unsafe after her experience having surgery at the Halifax Infirmary early last week amid significant staff shortages at the hospital.

After not seeing her surgeon for nearly a year, Mandy Grant got a call to come in for her procedure because there was an opening last week.

"When I got there, it was kind of very unorganized. The anesthesiologists couldn't find me. I was always put into a cubicle that was at the far end with no lights. It kind of looked like it was an old storage place," Grant told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Halifax on Thursday.

"When they found me, I had about 10 to 12 people coming at me all at once because I had no information about how the surgery was going to go. I had anticipated it going one way [but] being told it was going to be completely different because it was just no time for me to have a pre-op appointment."

Grant said she felt anxious. Once she got into the operating room, she asked if they could take a minute so someone could explain what was happening. She said her surgeon and nurses walked her through the procedure before going ahead with it.

When she was taken to the recovery area, Grant said it had the same feel as an emergency room "without any sheets blocking anyone off."

'There was no sense of organization'

"I was like, 'Oh, this is different.' I didn't stay down there very long and I was lucky because they were waiting for a bed and I went into a bed right away," Grant said.

From the time she woke up from her surgery to the following evening, Grant said she could only get about an hour of sleep "because there was no sense of organization."

At one point, she required a catheter and said there was no sheet to cover her up.

"My johnny shirt was literally lifted up as the janitor walked in ... I was exposed for everyone to see. At that point, my support person walked in and started yelling at the nurse doing the procedure," she said.

Grant said the nurse apologized and explained she had only been on the job for six months. Grant said she requested a different nurse because she didn't feel safe after the experience.

Also during the stay at the hospital, Grant said nurses forgot her pain medication on three separate occasions.

'She threw towels at me'

"It would get to the point where the pain is so bad that I started throwing up," Grant said, adding there were no bins to collect the vomit except a big garbage can.

Grant said a nurse came in and "she threw towels at me on the floor and said, 'Can you just step on it and wipe it up?'"

She said the garbage bin with the vomit and the towels stayed in the room until she left the next day. 

Health authority responds

When contacted about Grant's experience, the province's health authority acknowledged hospitals are facing big challenges because of staff shortages.

"While Nova Scotia Health facilities are under significant strain, we are redeploying available staff to critical areas and are doing our best to provide quality patient care," Nova Scotia Health said in a statement to Mainstreet.

"Feedback is critical to helping us improve services at this incredibly challenging time."

The health authority said it wants to hear from anyone with concerns about their care and encouraged people to reach out to its patient relations team.

An ambulance is seen with its lights on. Paramedics are feeling the strain of staffing shortages, says one union. (Robert Short/CBC)

Like hospitals, paramedics are also feeling the strain from being short-staffed.

A spokesperson for the union representing 1,200 paramedics in Nova Scotia said about one in five paramedics — 243 people — were off work as of Thursday. 

Over the past three days, there have been three provincewide code critical alerts. The alerts are issued when there are fewer than two crews available to respond to any given community.

"We have a lot of people off, especially with physical injuries that — due to the COVID — surgeries [for those injuries] are pre-empted. Physiotherapy is delayed. It's difficult to get people back in shape, to go back to their job," Kevin MacMullin, business manager for the International Union for Operating Engineers Local 727, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Halifax on Thursday.

"And then there's the mental stresses that everybody is facing with COVID ... and it doesn't exclude paramedics because they're under a great deal of stress. They're working long hours. Sometimes when they're working a 12-hour shift, they can go into 13, 14 hours."

Earlier this month, the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union said overtime is at an all-time high, with no relief in sight and people are quitting. MacMullin said he's seeing the same with paramedics. He said more paramedics are starting to retire and not enough students are graduating to fill the void.

One of the ways MacMullin said paramedics could be helped is if wages were increased by 15 to 25 per cent. He said salaries for paramedics in Ontario start at $44 per hour, while Nova Scotia offers $26 per hour.

"If you offer the right attractive salary, you will retain what you have," he said

Kevin McMullin the Business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727 which represents paramedics in the province says right now one in five paramedics is off the job in Nova Scotia. McMullin tells Jeff there are various reasons for the shortage.

With files from Mainstreet Halifax

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