'Everyone is exhausted and burnt': ER nurse at Lakeshore General quits over staff shortage

An emergency room nurse at Lakeshore General says the hospital’s ER is drowning and the government is looking away. 

Melissa Hum worked at the hospital for four years and, in that time, she said she watched the situation at the hospital steadily deteriorate. A severe staffing shortage and overcrowding in the ER made the situation critical this summer, according to Hum.  

She said morale is low amongst the staff and many people feel trapped. 

“Everybody is exhausted and burnt. There’s not much more you can give when you’re at your limit.”

“We are lacking support, we are lacking equipment, we are lacking personnel," she continued. "Those three factors alone play a tremendous impact on the service we provide and the care that we give.”

Hum said a lack of available staff means her team is often forced to prioritize who gets care and who doesn’t. 

“There is a real problem and the public should be aware that their safety can be compromised,” she said. “It’s not ensured, but the quality of care can be impacted because of no change. What the department needs now is change. It can’t sustain [like this].”

Patients rights advocate Paul Brunet says stories like Hum’s prove the government needs to stop making promises, and start acting. 

“You cannot hold the system, especially in acute care, emergency wards, the way they are handling it right now,” he said. “Something’s going to happen and it will be tragic.”

The situation at Lakeshore General reached a personal breaking point for Hum this weekend. After working a night shift where the ER was over capacity, she said the nursing team was short-staffed and she was forced to work another four hours. 

At her wits’ end, she felt she had no choice but to quit the job she had always dreamed of having. 

Hum said she has a number of health concerns including diabetes, which make her unable to provide adequate care when she is overworked. 

She said she brought this up with her employer and was told she had to work the overtime hours anyway. 

“You, as a nurse, are obligated to provide adequate care and if you’re unable to you were held accountable,” she said. “Why should one be held accountable because the department can’t provide enough staff?”

Hum said nurses have to be able to refuse forced overtime if it puts patients’ safety at risk. 

“Before you’re a nurse, you’re a person too. I have obligations to my family that I have to perform.”

The union that represents nurses at Lakeshore General said Hum’s story is hardly unique. 

“What Melissa is going through, everybody in the ER is going through right now,” said FIQ spokesperson Elizabeth Rich. “People have no way out and they all want to resign. I have another nurse that resigned this weekend and another one who said she was going to do it this week also.”

Hum said she has since filed a formal complaint with the hospital. 

In early September a team of Lakeshore nurses refused to work an evening shift, saying they were too short-staffed to be effective. 

Lakeshore nurses have staged at least eight sit-ins since July to put pressure on management and protest an ongoing staffing shortage they say is putting both patients and healthcare workers at risk. 

Sit-ins are illegal for nurses and the union has said those who take part put themselves at risk of being sanctioned by their employer.

Two separate sit-ins were held last Sunday. The FIQ said that at 8 a.m., the hospital's emergency room was over 180 per cent of its capacity. Just 12 nurses were on-hand to care for 57 patients, it said, explaining that it takes at least 13 nurses to properly care for 31 patients.

Since those sit-ins, the Lakeshore management has responded by changing the quotas to 12 nurses per 39 patients during the day, and 10 nurses per 39 patients during the evening, according to an ER nurse at the hospital who spoke to CTV Montreal anonymously. 

In an email to CTV Montreal, the West Island regional health authority did not confirm the new nurse-to-patient ratios but it did insist that the safety of hospital patients is never compromised. It points out that management at the CIUSSS de-l’ouest -de-l’ile-de-Montreal will lend a hand to healthcare teams when necessary to ensure the emergency situation remains under control. 

“We are also closely monitoring the situation at the Lakeshore General ER in order to ensure that our services to the public are maintained in a safe manner,” the email reads. 

It goes on to say the health authority is not able to comment on Hum’s complaint, but said that in order to improve its practices it encourages employees as well as patients and their families to share with them any issues or situation they feel are unacceptable. 

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