Hay River nurses are ‘jacks of all trades’

You might have figured this out by now – the nursing desk at the H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital is one of the busiest places in Hay River. And it doesn’t have anything to do with hours – there’s a lot of activity going on whether it’s Sunday, a national holiday or the middle of the night.
Sue Cullen, the new CEO of the HRHSSA and Corina Guy, manager of the ACC shared their stories with the Hub ahead of the National Nurses Week, taking place between May 11-17.


“We have such a variety of nurses in a variety of departments here, that nursing can mean different things to different individuals,” said Cullen. “We are covering acute care, the emergency department, trauma, OR, hemodialysis, home care…” The list continues for a while and with Cullen mentioning each and every area of expertise, one can only be amazed at how vast this profession can be. “You may graduate from the nursing school and end up, say, in an emergency room, and then in time you could switch to ambulatory care. It can ebb and flow, depending on the individual and the things you become involved in.”
Looking at our town in particular, Guy and Cullen agreed: “What Hay River provides for a nurse is diversity. When you are a registered nurse on the floor, here, on a shift, you’re never sure what will come on the door and because of the nuances of working in a locum environment our nursing staff needs to have honed their skills in terms of assessment and problem-solving. They need to really focus quickly when patients show up, whether they’re arriving in an ambulance, a taxi or walking in.”
“We’re it,” says Guy. “What you see is what you get – we’re not a big city hospital so we don’t have specialists at hand. Yellowknife is our closest referral site so we have to deal with the immediate trauma. We have to be jacks of all trades. The doctors are on call, but the registered nurses are the initial contact with the patients. We don’t have a trauma team, we don’t have a code team – we’re it.”
This year, the National Nurses Week happens to bring a big improvement to the medical system in Hay River. It is called CTAS – short for Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale, and it’s designed to make everyone’s life easier – from patients to nurses to doctors.
Simply put, triage means a first assessment of a patient upon arrival, followed by a classification of their condition. Explained Guy for the Hub: “The staff has been retrained to triage patients with regard to CTAS. When patients present to the emergency department they will get the assessment done immediately on presentation. We will then classify them as ‘one’ to ‘five’; for instance, unconsciousness means a ‘level one’ needing immediate resuscitation, while a ‘level five’ could mean a minor scrape or patients needing a dressing changed.”
What this means for everyone is that patients with urgent, life threatening conditions will be identified more rapidly, treatments will be determined with more accuracy and speed, there will be less congestion in the emergency treatment areas and finally, patients and families will receive accurate information regarding services, expected care and waiting times.
Sue Cullen also mentioned the changes coming in with the new standard. There is now a functional assessment room in place and the staff has been receiving certifications. Further into details “one has to be at least a registered nurse to perform triage,” she explained.
There are plans for a new hospital in Hay River and the nursing staff is all too happy about it. “We have serious structural issues with this building”, Cullen mentioned. “It’s a 40-years old building. So we had to create a new whole space to accomodate triage. We want to be a diagnostic centre of excellence south of the Lake,” she said, “so we’re really moving forward on a number of initiatives, as a whole team. But as far as the ‘big move’ is concerned, with the new hospital, we’re really excited about that.”
“In conclusion,” Sue Cullen added, “I’d like everyone to know that we’re taking big steps forward here. Aside from the wonderful team we’re working with, progress has been made in all of the programs we’re part of. Long term care, admissions, home care… you name it, we’re getting better each and every day.”