N.L. nurses’ union, Eastern Health meet to discuss staffing issues in pediatric ICU

Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador, says low staffing, rather than bed capacity, is the central problem facing the pediatric intensive care unit at St. John’s. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

The chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador’s Registered Nurses’ Union says understaffing, rather than a lack of beds, is the main reason Janeway’s pediatric intensive care unit at St. John’s was diverted to St. John’s at least three times this fall. a hospital in Halifax.

Yvette Coffey says a recent meeting between the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland and Labrador and Eastern Health’s senior leadership set the wheels in motion, but shed light on long-term solutions to staffing issues for the unit, which will help the critically ill children of the ward. serves the province.

“The whole crux of the matter is staffing,” she told CBC News. “We can have a physical bed room, but if you don’t have the registered nurses to staff those beds and take care of the patients, there’s no point in having a bed.”

Coffey said the union had decided to request a meeting with Eastern Health’s senior leadership to work together on solutions to staffing problems in the unit.

“The well-being of our members is one thing, but who wants a licensed nurse who cares for a very sick pediatric patient 20, 16, 24 hours a day?” she said.

In a statement to CBC News, an Eastern Health spokesperson said four staff members with previous PICU experience were transferred to the unit this fall, but Coffey said those nurses still face a workload in their other unit.

She said the unit has resorted to using Janeway nurses to care for stable PICU patients.

Coffey said staff in the unit were on mandatory standby for eight and 12-hour shifts until this week. During her meeting with Eastern Health, she said, senior leadership promised there would be no mandatory standby or overtime during the holidays, although both will start again in January.

The pediatric intensive care unit at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Center in St. John’s has been placed on diversion several times this fall to IWK Hospital in Halifax. (Paul Daly/CBC)

The spokesperson said a floater team of specialized nurses was set up in 2019 to relieve pressure on the PICU. Coffey said the team has been established with at least four positions, but is not currently active.

“The people who successfully, you know, got those positions still haven’t been released to work in the pediatric ICU,” she said.

During Tuesday’s meeting with Eastern Health’s leadership, she said, the union insisted that those staff members be released to go to the PICU. According to Coffey, Eastern Health is discussing the release of those staff members but has not provided a timeline.

CBC News has requested an interview with Eastern Health about the PICU.

Staff is the problem, not the capacity of the bed: Coffey

Coffey said the union is also pushing for an established protocol for when patients are diverted to Halifax. She said distraction is based on patient acuity, nursing resources and the number of current patients.

“It’s not just about the number of beds,” she said.

Eastern Health says the unit has a four-bed capacity with a peak capacity of six. Coffey said with current staffing levels, it could be challenging to maintain capacity for just two patients.

According to Coffey, caring for pediatric patients requires more checks and balances than caring for adult patients. She said each patient needs two nurses and at least four are needed for each procedure.

A patient from Newfoundland and Labrador was referred to the IWK hospital this fall. Eastern Health would not say when the patient was diverted or if they have since returned, citing privacy concerns.

Coffey said the union has committed to another meeting with the health authority in January to come up with more long-term solutions.

“We are open to regular meetings with the employer and continue to pressure them that we must have protocols in place,” Coffey said.

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