The union that represents the nurses working in Fraser Health hospitals, including Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody, is sounding the alarm over conditions in the emergency rooms of the facilities they serve.
In the case of Eagle Ridge, nurses claim patients are in the hospital's ER for days, morale among nurses is low and in one case, a dying man was read his last rites in the hallway with 12 strangers watching.
Nicole Dinning, a nurse steward at ERH, said the recent population boom in parts of the Tri-Cities has the hospital bursting at the seams.
"It's only getting worse," she told the media at a press conference held by the B.C. Nurses' Union in Coquitlam Thursday. "Everything would be better if we could get more staff."
As an example, Dinning said emergency room staff are forced to leave their post during the night and take care of a patient if a problem occurs on a different ward.
On any given night, there is usually only one ER doctor working.
And if there are any problems during an elective surgery, surgeries that are typically handled at Eagle Ridge, Dinning said the patient gets transferred to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, taking a nurse out of the hospital.
Perhaps even more alarming, the union claims Eagle Ridge has the highest infection rate among surgical patients in the entire health authority.
The union did not provide specifics about the infection rate, but Dinning said the hospital is looking into the issue and performing audits to figure out what is wrong.
She also noted nurse morale is the lowest she's seen, with veteran nurses in tears over the situation.
Specifically, Dinning said nurses now have to justify their overtime.
"Nurses are not sitting around waiting for overtime," she said. "They're there because they don't want their coworkers to be left alone. They're doing it for their patients; they're not doing it for themselves."
Dinning did emphasize the hospital is "fabulous" and patients are thankful for the care they receive.
However, the union is calling on Fraser Health and the province to provide long term, permanent solutions to the overcapacity problems.
In response, officials with Fraser Health acknowledged the emergency department does at time get congested, but said they're always looking at ways to be more efficient.
"I think the staffing and the physician coverage at Eagle Ridge meets the needs of the patients there," said Anne Clarke, medical director for the emergency program at Fraser Health.
She also said Fraser Health is aware of the population growth in the Tri-Cities and considers that growth when it looks at expanding services.
"We do have a growing patient population so we have to continue to look at how we can provide the best care for our patients everyday regardless of the volume," Clarke said. As for specific wait times in the ER at Eagle Ridge, Fraser Health officials said the numbers vary depending on the time of day, day of the week and even time of year.
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