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Saskatoon nurses call code blue over emergency room crowding

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Nurses at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital are once again warning the public of dangerous overcrowding inside one of Saskatchewan's busiest hospitals.

"Registered nurses are contacting us because they just don't feel like they're being listened to," Saskatchewan Union of Nurses first vice-president Denise Dick said.

"They're not being heard with this ongoing issue of way too many patients in the emergency departments, way too many patients on stretchers."

An email sent from an ER nurse on Tuesday detailed the circumstance staff were facing.

At the start of the shift, there were 40 patients stuck in the ER waiting for a bed elsewhere in the system, with 21 patients being treated in the hallway. As more people came into the hospital, no patients were sent to other units.

"Fifteen of these patients are in stretchers in the hallways," the email reads.

"Some of them are directly in front of the nursing station with absolutely no privacy."

The note says paramedics arriving at the hospital weren't able to offload patients, and were forced to wait with patients in the hallway rather than responding to emergencies in Saskatoon and surrounding communities.

"They're just not being heard and nothing's being done to deal with that," Dick said. There's supposedly a plan. Well, that plan hasn't done anything. It hasn't made any difference."

Hospital staff and patients in Saskatoon first sounded the alarm over capacity issues in late 2023. Reports at the time revealed that St. Paul’s Hospital failed fire department inspections due to patient beds lining hallways and obstructing emergency exits.

Days later, the province unveiled the Saskatoon Capacity Pressure Action Plan to address these concerns. Dick says nurses working at RUH have noticed little difference, despite the Saskatchewan Health Authority's (SHA) best efforts.

"If they just had the opportunity to not just be listened to but actually to be heard," Dick said of her membership's concerns.

On March 21, the day after the provincial budget was tabled at the legislature, the SHA announced more than 156 additional full time equivalent (FTE) staff in Saskatoon and Regina, including more than 60 additional nursing positions.

In March, the SHA said another 140 full-time positions are being recruited and hired, including 55 nurses.

"We see growing demands when it comes to medical and healthcare services in our province and we want to make sure that we can support that as best as we can," Health Minister Everett Hindley said at a separate announcement Tuesday.

Dick said nurses would like other areas of the hospital to assume emergency department responsibilities to avoid long wait times rather than dozens of people meant for other areas of the hospital using up crucial space.

"At least if they're someplace where they know that somebody is going to be caring for them — maybe not as fast as they like, simply because those areas are overburdened as well. But at least they're out of that emergency department," Dick said.

She also repeated calls for the province to form a nursing task force to have meaningful conversations with people working in emergency rooms.

"Time and time again it's just ignored," Dick said. "We're not getting that response."

The province is planning to build and a new 24-hour urgent care clinic in Saskatoon at the site of the former Pleasant Hill Community School, blocks away from St. Paul's Hospital, to further ease emergency room pressures in the coming years.

-With files from David Prisciak 

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