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Lions Gate Hospital nurses struggling amid staffing shortages, says union

Nurses question how health authority will staff new high-acuity wing and acute-care tower being built at Lions Gate.
Nurses at Lions Gate are struggling with continued staff shortages, including in the emergency department. | Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Nurses who work at Lions Gate Hospital say they’re overworked and under-staffed, and question how the health authority plans to staff the new high-acuity and acute-care facilities being built at the facility.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses Union, said she’s been hearing from nurses at the North Vancouver hospital, particularly from those who work in the emergency department.

On a recent weekend, the department saw 50 more patients than usual coming through the doors of the ER in a single day, while nurses were short-staffed by three or four people on all shifts, said Grewal.

Similar situations are happening in other hospitals around the province.

But both the nurses union and nurses who work in hospitals have indicated the situation is particularly acute at Lions Gate.

Nurses quitting LGH ER

“There’s a mass exodus of nurses out of Lions Gate ER. They just cannot cope anymore,” Danette Thomsen, vice-president of the nurses union, told the North Shore News in November. “They’re going other places to work.”

“We know that [Lions Gate] emergency department is one of the most short-staffed units in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority,” said Thomsen – with fewer nurses working than would be considered normal for a shift on a regular basis.

The nursing shortage is having an impact on patient care, said Grewal, because a nurse on a unit normally responsible for four patients might now be looking after six or seven patients, and having to make decisions on who to attend to first – the person in need of medication, the person who needs an IV drip set up or the person whose dressings need checking.

“They’re trying to triage,” she said.

Study says nurses' stress impacts patient care

As the pandemic approaches two years, a recent UBC study has found links between stress experienced by front-line nurses and the quality of care provided to patients.

The study, headed by assistant professor of nursing Farinaz Havaei, of North Vancouver, found that the more severe the mental health symptoms reported by nurses, the more likely they will rate the quality of care and safety in hospitals, long-term care homes and community health centres as poor.

“We are in a severe nursing crisis,” said Grewal.

Province to add seats in nursing schools

In response to the nursing shortage, on Sunday the province announced it will add 602 new nursing seats to post-secondary training programs in B.C. Of those, 362 new seats will be for registered nurses, 40 will be for psychiatric RNs, 20 will be for nurse practitioners and 180 will be for licensed practical nurses. The seats will be added to 2,000 existing seats in nursing programs, and will be phased in over the next two to three years, according to the province. Some of the seats are also aimed at helping internationally-training nurses get certified to work in B.C. - something Grewal says is desperately needed.

Staffing for new units questioned

Grewal said the nursing shortage is particularly pertinent for Lions Gate, which is scheduled to finish work this spring on a new high acuity unit – which is one step down from an ICU – and has started work on building a new acute care tower.

“How are you going to staff it?” she asked. “Where are you going to get the nurses from?”

VCH says staff are being recruited

In response to questions, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a statement acknowledging the pandemic has been extremely challenging on front-line staff, especially during the latest Omicron wave. The health authority added, "VCH continues to explore and implement a wide range of measures to help address current staffing challenges."

"LGH has already identified and trained staff for the staged opening of the new (high acuity unit) and further recruitment is currently underway."