Nova Scotia

Patients at Nova Scotia's largest hospital 'not safe,' says union

A report issued by the union that represents nurses and other health workers at the province's largest hospital warns the Halifax Infirmary emergency department is routinely overcrowded.

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The union that represents nurses and other health workers at the province's largest hospital complex has concluded patients are receiving care that is "not safe."

The conclusion comes following a review of statistics obtained from the Nova Scotia Health Authority that show how often emergency room physicians or charge nurses at the Halifax Infirmary declare a "code census."

A code census happens when the emergency department is so overcrowded it is deemed unsafe. Staff in other departments then have 30 minutes to prepare to accept more patients in order to free up beds in emergency.

Last year, there were 146 code censuses at the Halifax Infirmary emergency department, up from 110 in 2015 and 42 in 2014. There have been 39 already in January and February of this year.

'Government is accountable for this problem'

The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, Jason MacLean, called it a worrisome trend.

"It is not safe for code census to be called virtually every day in a one-month period and it is not safe to wait five times longer than you should to see an emergency department physician," he told reporters gathered at the union's head office on Monday.

"Government is accountable for this problem. They've ignored it so far because they've been allowed to ignore it this far."

The union released a 16-page report that offer 15 recommendations. Those include a review of staffing levels at the hospital, a study of why the emergency department is seeing an increase in the number of patients seeking care, as well as an examination of the number of long-term patients taking up hospital beds because they have nowhere else to go.

'Hallway medicine'

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said part of the problem is a lack of beds in seniors homes or other long-term care facilities, as well as a shortage of family doctors.

"Hospitals all over the province have considerable numbers of people in, as they call it, alternate levels of care arrangements, which really means that they ought to be in a long-term care facility," he said.

The result, he said, is what the union calls "double, triple bunking and hallway medicine."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority refused Monday to answer questions about the report. Instead it sent an emailed statement.

"Patient safety is always Nova Scotia Health Authority's top priority," it said. "We're confident in the safety and quality of care in our facilities, both in emergency departments and inpatient units."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.