12/22/2011 10:47 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST

Understaffing fatigues nurses at Vernon hospital

The head of the emergency department at Vernon Jubilee Hospital says chronic understaffing is causing fatigue amongst nurses and compromising patient care.

"[We've been] understaffed for a fairly long period of time and that has lead us to increased nurse burnout, increased nurse fatigue," said Dr. Jay Fourie.

"Because of the lack of nurses available, sometimes beds are not available, sometimes nurses have to go on break and there is just no way to see these patients."

Over the weekend, he said, the hospital was unable to fill three nursing shifts, meaning beds had to be closed down for several hours.

"Obviously, if we have to close beds, that means increased wait time, increased ambulance wait times. It's not ideal," Fourie said.

Overcrowding at the hospital is taking a toll on staff, he said — morale has reached an all-time low and many experienced nurses have left the department.

"The senior nurses carry a lot of the load — they help educate the junior nurses and they bring a sense of calm to the department, so it's really affected us negatively," Fourie said.

The nurse's union says its members have filed 30 recent complaints over being unable to perform their duties safely.

Officials with the Interior Health Authority say they are aware of the problem, and are working with nurses and physicians for a solution. The health authority is also working to recruit more experienced emergency room nurses.