“It’s just a nightmare.”: Healthcare worker sounds alarm on Novant NHRMC overcrowding and understaffing
NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — According to multiple healthcare workers within Novant New Hanover Regional Medical Center, overcrowding and understaffing have skyrocketed within the past six months.
“It’s just a nightmare,” said one source who works in the emergency department and wished to remain anonymous.
Last week, Novant NHRMC sent out a message, using “mass casualty event” protocol to bring in extra staff and address overcrowding.
“I guess they expect us all to drop everything and come in because they are an NCI mass casualty,” the source continued, “which I just feel is completely manipulative.”
There was no mass casualty event, which Novant acknowledged in a statement later on, saying it’s part of surge protocol. But some healthcare workers disagree with the implementation.
“It’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf or something like that. If something were to actually happen, are people going to take it seriously now?”
According to the emergency department employee, the pandemic pushed more nurses into travel nursing. Working on contracts, they would often get paid three to five times more for doing so.
When Novant cut some of those travel nurse contracts and lowered their pay, this employee says it left the hospital understaffed to the point where ER nurses are responsible for around seven patients at a time, instead of their usual four.
The anonymous employee says ER wait times have gone from around two hours to between six and 14 hours.
“We’re holding 40 to 70 people just waiting on beds upstairs for days at a time just in the emergency department.”
On top of patients’ safety, the employee worries about their wellbeing. Earlier this year, a patient with mental health issues attacked two healthcare workers after he was left sitting in an overflow room because of overcrowding. One employee had to intubated with injuries so severe that patient is charged with two counts of attempted first degree murder.
“And then the next day,” the source remembered, “we come in and all the psych patients are still in their normal spots. Nothing really changed.”
Though the employee loves helping others, they’re worried for their safety and their patients’ safety.
“I constantly feel kind of feel on edge. I’m watching my back, and looking for patients who could possibly attack me. I’m embarrassed when people say they have to go to the hospital. I don’t want my family members to get sick, because it’s just not safe.”
We reached out to Novant Health multiple times in the last week. We sent them several questions Monday morning as well. Instead of sitting down for an interview, they responded:
When our emergency departments are experiencing high volume, we have tools to ensure we prioritize patient care. Calling in additional staff when we get busy is one of those tools. We understand the wording of last week’s internal message caused some concerns. Our mass casualty protocol includes steps to take, down to the messaging, which starts: Facility Alert – Mass Casualty and then includes details on the nature of the event. On June 6, there was not a single precipitating event which is why the initial message explained that the alert was due to surge capacity. As the region’s Trauma Center and Comprehensive Stroke Center, we can quickly get an influx of high acuity patients. This is what occurred on June 6, and it happened on top of already busy volumes.
People will never be denied healthcare. Emergency Department wait times vary depending on the number of people who are seeking care at any given time. Based on one study, thirty percent of patients go to the emergency department for non-emergent care. That is why we continue to ask people to go to their primary care physician or urgent care when possible. Clinicians are assigned patients based on severity of patients in the emergency department, which varies.
We know that workplace violence in healthcare is a significant issue nationally, and we are certainly not immune. At Novant Health, we have strong systems in place to prevent and respond to verbal and physical abuse of our team members, including a robust workplace violence committee dedicated to implementing best industry practices in education, prevention and response to acts of violence on our campuses.
The national nursing shortage existed prior to the pandemic, and we have long had plans in place to manage different scenarios that could impact our staffing levels. Plans include float pools and other strategies that are not reliant on the contract labor needed during the height of the pandemic. We are proactively working to address this shortage with programs centered on internal advancement, professional development, external recruitment and competitive incentives. It’s important for our community to know that we have the continued ability to care for them, and that they should seek care when they need it at the appropriate settings, including urgent care or a primary care provider for non-emergent needs. We are continually working with our team members to identify opportunities to improve how we are providing care, and our plans are built with their input and ideas. We appreciate everything our team members are doing to support our patients and community.
Below are some of those many initiatives we are doing to support clinical staff recruitment and retention:
· Competitive compensation incentives aimed toward recruiting and retaining registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and other clinical support staff
· Creation of a nurse residency program for new graduate nurses to create a pipeline of strong, clinical professionals
· Support of internal advancement with the Upward Mobility RN Scholarship, which improves financial well-being among team members seeking to become an RN
· Focus on increasing resiliency through strategies to improve wellbeing and address burnout and fatigue
· Continue using contract labor as necessary and available. While we are and have been working toward reducing our dependence on travel nurses, we use contract labor to supplement our teams and ensure our continued ability to provide safe, quality care to our patients.