The death of a man while waiting for care in a Fredericton emergency room has prompted Horizon Health to make staffing changes at some hospitals in the province.
The health authority has launched a pilot project bringing what it calls patient service workers into emergency department waiting rooms at five of its largest hospitals.
“Essentially, these health care workers will be in the emergency departments to monitor the status — the health status — of the individuals waiting for care,” said Margaret Melanson, interim president and CEO of Horizon on CBC Radio’s Iinformation morning in the summer.
“And to have the ability to quickly go to the triage nurse to report if there is a patient who is in distress or reporting a decline in their condition, increased pain or a need for them to be reassessed in terms of their priority status. “
Melanson said there will be patient service workers about 24 hours a day, seven days a week in emergency department waiting rooms in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Miramichi and Waterville.
Melanson said a licensed practical nurse often performed that role in the past, but recent staffing shortages required them to work in other roles in the emergency department.
“So at this point, what we’ve done is increase the people who are in these waiting rooms and now doing this work, so it’s not just an LPN, it’s also patient service workers,” she said.
“And fortunately, over the summer we have a large number of nursing students who are very well prepared to be able to take vital signs and perform these comfort measures and interactions with patients that we talked about.”
Melanson said the move is directly related to the death of a man while awaiting care at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton on July 12.
The incident prompted Horizon to conduct a review, and later that week led Prime Minister Blaine Higgs to fire John Dornan from his role as president and CEO of Horizon Health Network.
He also withdrew the boards of both Horizon and Vitalité Health Network and replaced them with individual trustees.
Attention needed for the “root” of long waiting times
John Staples was in the emergency room waiting room at Chalmers when he saw an elderly man waiting in discomfort before he appeared to fall asleep and stop breathing.
He believes that any effort to improve health care in the province is positive.
“Certainly the pilot project that they’re putting in place, if it had been in place the night of that incident, for the gentleman’s death, could it have made a difference? I don’t know,” Staples said.
“But having someone check on people and just the reassurance alone, I think, will have a positive effect in the waiting room.”
At the same time, Staples said the move appears to be addressing only the symptoms of what ails health care in New Brunswick, not the root cause.
“Why are people waiting in waiting rooms for eight, 10, 12 hours at a time and not getting the medical care they need,” he said.
“If we don’t have the staff available to help those who need help, well, again, then we have to go back and look at the root problem.”
Melanson said Horizon plans to hire more people over the summer to be ready to take on the role when summer students go back to school.
She said the intention is to make the pilot project permanent and said they will assess the effect it has had on patient care at the end of the summer.