• Stuart Benson

‘No back-up’

Wakefield Hospital nursing staff stretched thin, overnight shifts left unstaffed

Nurses at the Wakefield Hospital are sounding the alarm that the situation is becoming increasingly more uncertain, resulting in no nursing assistants being on the floor overnight in the long-term-care (LTC) unit for the second time this year.


Wakefield's Ned Ellis was already in bed on Sept. 5 when he received a phone call just after 10 p.m. from a woman who told him she was calling all of the family members of patients currently residing in the LTC to inform them that there was no “préposé,” or night attendant, on the floor for the overnight shift.


Nursing staff at the Wakefield Hospital is stretched thin and overnight shifts are going unstaffed. Low Down file photo
Nursing staff at the Wakefield Hospital is stretched thin and overnight shifts are going unstaffed. Low Down file photo

Ellis said he doesn’t know who the woman was or under whose authority she was calling, but to be safe, he called a private caretaker he had hired to go check on his 80-year-old sister in the LTC at the hospital and who suffers from severe Alzheimers.


According to CISSSO, a single night attendant is assigned to the overnight shift. The public agency responsible for administering health and social services in the Outaouais region confirmed that no staff was present for that shift on Sept. 5.


A CISSSO representative explained that it is the hospital’s procedure to call patients’ families to “invite” them to assist their loved ones.


CISSSO added that, in the case of a one-time absence, where a nurse is scheduled for their shift and doesn’t show up, management will first attempt to find a replacement for the shift as well as request other staff to stay longer on a voluntary basis. However, in cases like the night of Sept. 5, when neither option is successful, staff will begin prioritizing the care needed by patients.


Ellis said when his sister’s caretaker arrived just after 11 p.m. his sister was sleeping sitting up with the T.V. still on, while nursing staff from other units worked to catch up with other patients.


He isn’t sharing his story to criticize any of the “incredibly committed and caring” staff at the Wakefield Hospital, but in the hopes that he can get them some “back-up.”


“They're trying their best, but we've gotten to the point where they're just stretched too thin and the system is breaking,” Ellis said. “There's no back-up."


The Low Down spoke to two nurses, one who still works at the Wakefield Hospital and another that has since left in the past year, and their perspectives echo that of Ellis’. The nurses requested anonymity in order to speak freely. They described an atmosphere of uncertainty, with communication breakdowns, and an ever-increasing workload with an ever-decreasing pool of manpower and no new resources.


Both nurses spoke of the uncertainty of arriving for shifts, not knowing who else would be there or if there would be enough staff to complete all of the tasks. This latter issue was recently exacerbated when CISSSO instructed the hospital’s nursing manager for the emergency and short-term-care units to take on additional tasks in Maniwaki, stretching her duties between both locations, according to the nurses.


The lack of communication or provision of new resources when tasked with extra duties is a constant issue, said the nurses. This is also true when dealing with CISSSO, as staff were not consulted before the COVID-19 testing centre was set up in the hospital early this year, the nurses said. The nurses said that CISSSO assumed that the existing nursing staff would operate the site in addition to their regular duties.


Staff were allegedly also not informed ahead of time when the decision was made on June 25, to close the Gatineau Hospital’s Emergency unit and redirect patients to Wakefield Hospital.


Compounding the stress of being overworked is the uncertainty of when “reinforcements” will arrive, said the nurses. In the past year, the hospital has lost five members of the nursing staff, but have yet to hire any new permanent staff.