Nurses walking off job at Lakeshore General over chronic staffing shortages

Nurses at the Lakeshore General Hospital are trying to put pressure on management, saying an ongoing staffing shortage is putting both patients and staff at risk.

On Saturday, a team of nurses scheduled to work the evening shift in the emergency room refused to do so, saying they were too short-staffed to be effective.

“They had 120 per cent capacity and they only had 10 nurses,” said Elizabeth Rich of the Quebec nurses' union, FIQ.

In a statement to CTV News on Monday, the West Island health authority said it worked with employees and the union to ensure services wouldn't be disrupted on Saturday and that 12 nurses -- as well as orderlies and other health-care workers -- were present during the night shift. 

When the Lakeshore ER is at full capacity, regulations call for 14 nurses to be working, or roughly one for every two patients, Rich said. 

Shortages mean fewer nurses in triage and code rooms and patient-to-nurse ratios that are unmanageable. On Saturday, the assistant head nurse who is responsible for coordinating much of the ER's services was forced to leave their post to work on the floor due to a lack of nurses. 

“They knew it was very dangerous, it's critical care,” said Rich. “People are unstable. It's very difficult for them to have a safe environment with that kind of personnel.”

Saturday's incident was the fourth sit-in at the Lakeshore so far this summer, though it was not a planned protest. Sit-ins are illegal for nurses and Rich said those who took part put themselves at risk of being sanctioned by their employer.

“They could lose their seniority, they could be suspended, they can lose the prime of $1,000 that the government gives them,” she said. “There's a lot at stake.”

None of the nurses involved were willing to speak publicly but Rich said it's the job of Quebec's premier to fix the staffing issue.

“He has to make the profession more attractive. For sure, the employer is trying to recruit,” she said. “He does recruit, but people leave.”

According to Rich, 39 ER nurses at the Lakeshore have quit in the past two years, and there are currently 19 vacant full-time jobs that can't be filled.

"Note that the West Island health authority set up a joint committee in July to work with the union to find concrete solutions to the lack of staff," Guillaume Bérubé from the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-Île-de-Montréal said in Monday's statement. "Since then, we have offered training to care staff and have reorganized tasks in order to eliminate many issues that had been raised by the union." 

Berube added that much like other health establishments in Quebec, staffing was problem even before COVID-19 hit. He said the health authority's goal moving forward is to continue recruitment efforts while working with the union to improve "the situation at the Lakeshore emergency." 

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