When Salt Spring’s Lady Minto Hospital opened its doors in the summer of 1914, patients could expect one nurse on duty — and on Friday night, that level of staffing seems to have returned, albeit briefly.
During a period from Friday, Jan. 6 until 7 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, Island Health asked patients with non-urgent concerns to return to Lady Minto “when our staffing levels improve,” noting that the emergency department remained open for urgent cases and emergencies. A notice posted on the door further directed anyone uncertain as to whether they required a visit to the emergency room to call HealthLink BC (811) for advice from a registered nurse.
Community reports indicated there was just one nurse on duty during this period, and while Island Health did confirm the emergency room remained open all night, officials could not confirm how many staff were on duty before press time, noting a statement was being prepared in response to Driftwood queries.
On Tuesday, Island Health issued a statement acknowledging the hospital had experienced an “unforeseen short notice limited staff availability,” adding that — contrary to reports — there was “more than one nurse on” at the hospital overnight, along with “allied health provider support.” Island Health did not characterize either the number of patients under care, nor elaborate on how many nursing staff were considered adequate for Lady Minto, saying only that overnight baseline staffing numbers are “prioritized to meet the needs of the community” and noting the on-call availability of additional staff.
Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen said word from his constituents and advocates had been that Lady Minto’s situation had been difficult for at least a number of months, adding that the reported level of staffing was “dangerous.”
“We know that anything over four patients per nurse is a very, very dangerous situation for the nurse, and an exceptionally dangerous situation for the patients,” said Olsen. “And it’s really wearing on the staff. It creates a situation where the stress and trauma of showing up to work puts people off the job — and then the situation becomes more acute. The longer it takes for Island Health to address the situation, the more acute it will become, and the more pressure it puts on the staff who are left.”
Medical staff shortages have long been part of Gulf Islands life, but recent troubles have been markedly more worrying for residents. Two summers ago, patients were temporarily diverted during part of July from Lady Minto to Saanich Peninsula Hospital due to staff shortages. Although Island Health did not share the reason for low staffing, the costs for transfers were absorbed by the provincial Patient Transfer Network.
And last summer, even as construction began on a $12.8-million emergency department expansion project, the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation reported more than 35 staff vacancies at the hospital, and Island Health said it would transfer — when medically safe to do so — any woman on Salt Spring who went into labour elsewhere, advising women in their late terms to move closer to other hospitals to give birth.
Olsen meanwhile said his office had submitted an urgent request to meet with Island Health to determine how the decision was made to keep the hospital open with so few staff, rather than — as has been seen recently at other Island Health hospitals — issuing a closure notice and diverting patients.
“We’ve got a health-care system that relies on health-care workers to make ethical decisions about the health and wellbeing of the people they’re treating,” said Olsen. “Is it ethical to continue to receive patients, knowing that you’re not able to staff a full complement? We really put our health-care workers in a moral dilemma when government and health authorities are not providing them the resources or the responses that let them feel that they’re being valued and being heard.”