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Nurses' overtime at St. John’s hospitals explodes

Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to nurses at a rally in St. John's earlier this year about the need for more full-time nurses in the health-care system.
Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to nurses at a rally in St. John's earlier this year about the need for more full-time nurses in the health-care system. - SaltWire File Photo

Janeway saw biggest jump in overtime in past year

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Overtime worked by registered nurses at St. John’s four hospitals exploded in 2019, after a couple of years when Eastern Health managed to get the numbers down, according to data obtained by The Telegram.

Through access to information legislation, The Telegram pulled the nurse overtime for four facilities: the Health Sciences Centre General Hospital, the Janeway children’s hospital, which is part of Health Sciences Centre, the Waterford Hospital and St. Clare’s Hospital.

Across those four hospitals, nurses worked a total of 131,836.12 overtime hours in fiscal 2018-19 — the year ends March 31.  

That total is equivalent to what 67.6 extra nurses would log, based on a regular 37.5-hour work week. 

The nurses' overtime was almost as high in 2014-15, but then it began to trend down — in 2015-16 to 123,331.38 hours, 102,475.90 in 2016-17 and up slightly to 105,909.40 in 2017-18.

The highest jump by far in fiscal 2019 over fiscal 2018 was at the Janeway, where nurses' overtime hours skyrocketed by 59 per cent — from 14,829.88 hours to 23,703.84.

The most frantic time this past year ended Feb. 9, 2019 — 168 Janeway nurses logged overtime that pay period.

The Health Sciences Centre, which understandably logs the most overtime every year, as it is the province’s trauma centre, saw a 12 per cent increase, from 58,530.44 to 66,016.69 hours of overtime. 

St. Clare’s saw a 26 per cent hike in nurses' overtime hours over the two most recent years, and the Waterford, 33 per cent. 

Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, said the numbers obtained by The Telegram confirm what anecdotally the union has been hearing from its membership.

“To see the numbers is really startling,” said Forward, who was given a copy of the documents obtained by The Telegram in order to comment.

Simply put, it’s what nurses have been talking about in terms of trying to cover shifts when others are off, are sick or are on holidays, but also reveals the complex nature of patient care and how that challenge has increased.

“When you actually see them on paper, it speaks volumes about the challenges that have happened in the workplace in the last few years,” Forward said. 

She noted the trend went down following 2015 and that reflects an effort by Eastern Health to control overtime, a plan that has since faltered.

They were basically a Band-Aid, Forward noted.

“For me it speaks to the strategies weren’t the smartest,” she said.

One example she noted was that Eastern Health wasn’t going to replace the first shift of a sick call, which worked for only a short time.

Forward said the Janeway in particular is startling for its overtime and matches the stories nurses have been telling about high patient counts and complexity, especially in the hospital’s ICU and emergency units.

Across the health-care system, there needs to be a review of the various units to determine where the problem areas are and how best to manage the resources, the union insists.

The numbers of core staff — full-time, permanent — haven’t seen much change in recent years, Forward noted, but the solution needs to come from careful analysis.

There will always be overtime and the need for casual relief.

“You can’t have a perfect system,” Forward said.

However, Forward noted staffing has always been based on budgets and not on how to match patient needs. 

The union’s new collective agreement with the government is expected to be signed in the next few weeks.

That will include a review of the Health Sciences Centre'smedical and surgical units and Eastern Heath’s long-term care, as well as some sites within Western and Central Health. The government will hire a consultant to do that work, Forward said.


OVERTIME HOURS

HEALTH SCIENCES 

  • 2015 — OT hours: 65,169.605 filled by 283-470 nurses
  • 2016 — OT hours: 56,199.617 filled by 323-497 nurses
  • 2017 — OT hours: 47,268.818 filled by 215-423 nurses
  • 2018 — OT hours: 58,530.44 filled by 245-479 nurses
  • 2019 — OT hours (in fiscal year ended March 31): 66,016.69 filled by 266-463 nurses

WATERFORD HOSPITAL 

  • 2015 — OT hours: 21,832.37 filled by 46-105 nurses
  • 2016 — OT hours: 22,700.16 filled by 60-115 nurses
  • 2017 — OT hours: 19,027.04 filled by 58-102 nurses
  • 2018 — OT hours: 15,031.08 filled by 48-95 nurses
  • 2019 — OT hours (in fiscal year ended March 31): 20,014.38 filled by 33-103 nurses

JANEWAY CORPORATION 

  • 2015 — OT hours: 19,044.69 filled by 63-151 nurses
  • 2016 — OT hours: 22,578.15 filled by 57-149 nurses
  • 2017 — OT hours: 16,738.25 filled by 71-138 nurses 
  • 2018 — OT hours: 14,829.88 filled by 65-115 nurses
  • 2019 — OT hours (in fiscal year ended March 31): 23,703.84 filled by 80-168 nurses

ST. CLARE'S MERCY HOSPITAL 

  • 2015 — OT hours: 25,308.71 filled by 125-219 nurses
  • 2016 — OT hours: 21,853.45 filled by 92-213 nurses 
  • 2017 — OT hours: 19,441.79 filled by 74-179 nurses
  • 2018 — OT hours: 17,518.00 filled by 81-169 nurses 
  • 2019 — OT hours (in fiscal year ended March 31): 22,101.21 filled by 100-207 nurses

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