04/22/2015 10:38 EDT | Updated 07/18/2015 11:59 EDT

Nurses warn patient care is at risk on Vancouver Island

B.C. Nurses' Union is sounding the alarm over nurse staffing hours and says the new health-care model is putting patients at risk on Vancouver Island. 

The union fears more hospitals in B.C. will began using this new model — which they call a "cost-saving measure" — and it began binding arbitration over the issue on Wednesday with the Island Health Authority to stop it from being implemented elsewhere. 

The new patient-care program employs more care aid workers to deal with the day-to-day needs of patients, such as bathing and getting out of bed. But nurses say there are overwhelmed with the volume of patients they are now responsible for. 

The nurses' union president Gayle Duteil says nurses are now seeing upwards of eight patients, which is double what she says is the appropriate ratio. 

Duteil warned that it's a matter of time before something goes wrong, such as "missed medications, missed doctor's orders, missed opportunity to assess the patient."

Nanaimo registered nurse Kelley Charters claims she has witnessed the decline in patient care first hand.

"It is not working. Nurses are routinely late with medications and treatments," she says. "They are unable to perform the critical knowledge-based assessments that are so important for patient safety." 

Cutting cost not the goal, health authority says

However, the Island Health Authority insists patient care has not been compromised. 

"We have been regularly monitoring 16 patient-care indicators that track patient-care outcomes and nothing in any of the indicators have shown any negative impact on patient care," said Suzanne Germain, Island Health Authority spokeswoman.

"This has never been about cutting costs. It has been about getting the right kind of care to the right patient at the right time," said Germain. 

She says highly-trained nurses are in short supply and are being allocated to provide assessments of patients and develop care plans for those patients instead.