Jamie Stewart is in his 29th year of nursing and currently works as a clinical lead at one of the largest ERs in Nova Scotia. Chronically understaffed, Jamie says the ER waiting room is often overflowing, and it can feel like working an assembly line.
“It's a real struggle for maintaining a good, safe environment,” he says. “You don't have enough people to look after the people you need to look after.”
Pressures in the ER have grown so much that patients who can’t fit in the waiting room end up sitting in their cars, waiting to be admitted to the ER. Short staffing can have a dire impact in ERs, particularly when there aren’t enough staff to triage patients as they come in, reassess patients as they wait, and monitor their conditions.
“Someone did end up passing away in our waiting room. Unfortunately, people can deteriorate without someone knowing,” Jamie shares. “It makes you feel like you've failed the people that you're there to look after. You want to do better, but if you don't have all the tools and resources to get there, you feel helpless.”
Although the ER Jamie works in technically closes at midnight, the demand for patient care is so intense that nurses must stay on throughout the night when patients can’t leave or are waiting to be admitted into another facility.
“You didn't really plan to be here overnight because you were not an overnight nurse. You were just an evening nurse. And now you're here all night long,” he explains. “Then you come to your next shift and you're tired…imagine if you've been in a lot of those shifts in a row, how you would replenish yourself?”
Jamie says better wages for nurses are important – that’s the respect nurses deserve for their professionalism and hard work. But better wages should go hand-in-hand with improved working conditions.
"You also need to look after making sure we get our days off, making sure we can get away, making sure our benefits are great and that we're looked after, too,” he says. “We can only look after people for so long and then there's nothing left for us to give to ourselves.”