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Horizon Health Network launches pilot project in wake of ER death

Click to play video: 'New pilot project announced after patient dies in waiting area of Fredericton hospital' New pilot project announced after patient dies in waiting area of Fredericton hospital
Watch: Horizon Health Network has announced a new pilot project for its major emergency departments. The project will assign a licensed practical nurse or personal support worker to actively monitor and tend to patients while they’re in a hospital waiting room. Nathalie Sturgeon has more.

Horizon Health Network is starting a new pilot project at its five major hospitals where a health-care professional will be stationed in the waiting room 24 hours a day while patients navigate wait times and the triage process.

It’s a direct result of the death of a patient at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital emergency room waiting area, according to interim president and CEO of Horizon Health Network Margaret Melanson.

“This pilot program has been introduced in our emergency departments for a couple of reasons,” she said. “Firstly, it’ll have staff who are available 24/7 to monitor patients’ vital signs, speak with them and determine if anyone is experiencing any increase of their symptoms or any decline in their status that would require it to be reported immediately to the triage nurses or the emergency department.”

She said the second goal is to provide a better patient experience.

There will be licensed practical nurses, personal service workers with specialized training, and nursing students during the summer.

Read more: Patient dies in waiting room of N.B. emergency room, eyewitness speaks out

“These individuals, let’s call them waiting room assistants or monitors, will have a comfort cart that will have available blankets, water, bandages — anything that a patient may need immediately while they are waiting.”

Melanson said Horizon is working on a more sustainable solution for when the nursing students eventually return to their students.

On July 12, a patient died in the emergency room waiting area, which prompted swift changes to leadership within the health authorities and the Department of Health.

Melanson confirmed that was the catalyst for this project and said this type of thing did exist prior to the death but it was not a consistent, full-time position.

“So this is why we put into place this current initiative we’re speaking about so that we can ensure that all times there is someone available,” she said in an interview.

The New Brunswick Medical Society supports the pilot project, according to its CEO Anthony Knight.

Read more: Another ER death under investigation in New Brunswick, called a ‘tragic event’

“While it is important, as I said, it doesn’t address the health human resource challenges we see in our hospitals and our community-based family physician practices, as well as the nursing shortage in the province,” he said. “That’s why we need a co-ordinated robust approach to recruiting and retaining health-care workers in our province.”

He said there have been conversations with the new health minister and the new trustees about how to make the province more attractive to prospective doctors and nurses looking for a place to settle and work.

“Making sure we’re competitive, that we can show the value associated with working, living and raising a family and how, maybe, you can dissociate yourself from sort of the rat races in some of our larger cities,” he said.

The New Brunswick Health Coalition said it hopes the new pilot project will prevent any further deaths like the one in July, but it remains concerned about the bigger issue of recruitment and retention.

“Of course, it’s a band-aid solution because it’s good that people who go to the hospital and wait for the triage are being taken care of but the main problem remains,” said coalition chair Bernadette Landry.

She said health-care workers deserve better than the system they are working in. She thinks there should be a bigger focus on removing barriers to getting health-care workers on the job.

“We need to remove any barrier there is,” she said.

The Department of Health said in a statement that it was “happy to see efforts like this one by Horizon to improve service to people attending an Emergency Department.”

“There’s certainly no single solution, but we’re hopeful that the right action and the right resources can have an impact on the system and lead to improvements for the people who rely on that system in their time of need, and also for the people who work in that system,” the statement said.

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