P.E.I. triage nurses understaffed and regularly facing physical, verbal abuse: union
'We are one critical patient away from complete system failure,' nurse writes
As some people wait for more than 10 hours in an emergency room to see a doctor, hospitals — which are at capacity — are facing a shortage of triage nurses, and those who are working are regularly facing verbal and physical abuse, according to the P.E.I. Nurses Union.
A triage nurse is typically the first person a patient sees when visiting an emergency room. They're tasked with assessing and continually reassessing your condition as you wait in the emergency room. They also decide where to place you in the lineup to see a doctor.
Lately, the nurses union says those triage nurses, like the ER itself, have at times been overwhelmed.
"They're just really frustrated," said Barbara Brookins, president of the union.
"Everybody wants to be able to get through the client load, and see everybody and make that conversation and the connection point as soon as you arrive.
"But it's just not possible right now, and we're just as concerned as everybody else is that something could get missed."
ER nurse sounds off on conditions
An ER nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital laid out those concerns in a letter tabled by the Official Opposition in the P.E.I. Legislature last week.
According to the nurse, there are just two triage nurses working most of the day with one overnight — tasked with regularly checking on and, to some degree, caring for dozens of patients.
"Being the triage nurse in the department with the current bed shortage (or complete unavailability), is honestly the hardest and most crucial role," they wrote.
We are one critical patient away from complete system failure.— ER nurse
Some of those patients classified as most urgent and at times lately some have waited 10 hours or more for a doctor and a bed to free up.
"It's honestly a miracle to me that no one has died in our waiting room, given all these factors," the nurse wrote in the letter. "We are one critical patient away from complete system failure."
The nurses union said triage nurses in particular are taking a lot of the heat from frustrated patients.
"They're taking a lot of verbal abuse. They're taking physical abuse right now," Brookins said.
"Everyone has to recognize that we're doing the best job we can right now, and we do have limited resources … things will settle down but we're in a busy time of the year and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better."
Disrespect and violence a 'serious concern,' Health P.E.I. says
Health P.E.I. said limited resources are the big challenge.
ER nurses work triage shifts on rotation and there are 12 nurse vacancies in the QEH ER alone. At the moment, there are no plans to schedule more nurses to work triage to ease their workload and stress.
Health P.E.I. is working on a new violence prevention plan that it hopes will cut down on the abuse from patients.
"Disrespect and violence toward staff is a serious concern in health care on P.E.I. across the system, and triage nurses are frontline staff who experience this first hand," a statement from Health P.E.I. said.
"We always require patients treat staff with respect and violence is not tolerated. Violence prevention is a key priority for Health P.E.I., which has a Violence in the Workplace Policy and a Provincial Violence Prevention and Reduction Steering Committee directing this work."
With files from Steve Bruce