Short-staffing at heart of 'toxic workplace' at Health P.E.I., says nurses' union
‘I think toxic is a little bit harsh of a word to use’
Filling vacant positions is key to fixing problems at Health P.E.I. identified in a consultant's report, says the P.E.I. Nurses Union.
CBC News obtained the internal report through a freedom of information request. It included the results of exit surveys from 31 people who recently left jobs with the provincial health care agency. Consultant Garth Waite concluded excessive workload was creating stress for Health P.E.I. employees.
Fourteen of the 31 respondents described Health P.E.I. as a "toxic workplace."
Barbara Brookins, president of the P.E.I. Nurses' Union, called the report disappointing but not surprising.
"I know the reasons they were calling it toxic, but I think toxic is a little bit harsh of a word to use," said Brookins.
"There are some critical systemic issues that are going on within Health P.E.I. that need to be addressed. But to call it toxic, you don't want to scare people away from coming into the system."
Pressure to take on extra work
Short staffing is at the root of the agency's problems, Brookins said.
Health P.E.I. reports 695 vacancies currently, including 188 for registered nurses.
Many of the problems at Health P.E.I. could be solved if vacant positions were filled, said Brookins.
"A lot of it is around workload, work-life, balance, their inability to get leaves," she said.
"They're coming to work, [and] if there's no one to come on to relieve them, they're being pressured to work overtime. They're being pressured to work double shifts. They're being called in on their time off."
The pressure nurses feel is coming not just from managers, Brookins said. Nurses are putting pressure on themselves because they want to support their colleagues, and they also understand if they don't put in that overtime or do that double shift patient care could suffer.
All this leads to poor morale, she said.
There are great career opportunities at Health P.E.I., said Brookins, but the workforce needs to be stabilized.
Acting CEO of Health P.E.I. Dr. Michael Gardam agrees with Brookins.
"The biggest reason, I think, for people leaving Health P.E.I. is we don't have enough staff. And that's one which has been there forever. And that's one which is particularly challenging to try to make better," Gardam said.
The staffing shortage is having a serious impact throughout P.E.I.'s health-care system, Gardam said.
"If we have to close beds in acute care or we can't launch a particular program, then these staffing shortages are a very big deal," he said, adding P.E.I. is not alone with this struggle.
"It's commonplace across Canada now to have emergency departments where patients are in hallways, where there's long waiting lists. None of that is good care."
Gardam said Health P.E.I. is looking at recruitment strategies to bring new health-care staff to the Island.
"Let's look at making sure that we make the application process as easy as humanly possible, that we really make you feel welcome here … making sure we have flexible work hours for people who need that," he said.
"So at the end of the day, if we're still short-staffed, we can say we tried everything."
This fall, Health P.E.I. plans to meet with staff to hear their concerns.
"Our plan is to go around the Island and speak with health-care workers face-to-face about what they're feeling about everything."
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With files from Kerry Campbell