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Royal Jubilee patients left in waiting areas overnight

Mar 07 2012
Crowded conditions at Royal Jubilee Hospital’s emergency department promts temporary use of sunrooms. 

Crowded conditions at Royal Jubilee Hospital’s emergency department promts temporary use of sunrooms.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com

Sunrooms meant to serve as waiting rooms for patients and families in Royal Jubilee Hospital's $349million Patient Care Centre are filling up with stretchers and being used overnight by patients waiting for beds.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority says overcrowding in the hospital's ER is common at this time of year, when the combined issues of an aging population, people with chronic diseases and seasonal illnesses, and emergencies overwhelm hospital ERs.

Statistics provided by VIHA showing hospital admissions through the ER and the number of people who visit the ER show Royal Jubilee has been similarly busy in past years during the winter.

Royal Jubilee's sunrooms are equipped with televisions, chairs and phones for families and patients. They are not equipped with safety features such as oxygen, a call bell for assistance, or suction, said Adriane Gear, south Island co-chairwoman for the B.C. Nurses Union.

Despite earlier assurances that the sunrooms - which VIHA refers to in this context as "flow-through spaces," or areas to temporarily hold patients - would only be used over the weekend as transitional spaces, hospital workers

say patients were on stretchers in sunrooms throughout the weekend and overnight.

The nurses union and VIHA both confirmed that patients were in the sunrooms overnight.

"While it's rare that we have a patient in flow-through spaces overnight, it did happen over the weekend," said Shannon Marshall, VIHA spokeswoman. There was one patient in the sunrooms overnight Saturday and another three or four Sunday night, she said.

"While not the ideal, it is preferable to have patients in flow-through spaces where it's quieter and safer than to nurse them in hallways in the ER," Marshall said.

The BCNU agrees the sunrooms, while unequipped for emergencies, may in some cases be more comfortable for patients than the hallways.

However, there are 136 beds sitting empty in the care centre with no funding to operate them - 68 beds on the fifth floor, and 34 beds on both the fourth and seventh floors, according to the union. The rooms are fully equipped and ready - with the exception of funding - for use.

"They have more than 100 beds," Gear said. "They have the beds, they have the capacity."

Nurses and hospital staff argue VIHA could and should open those beds. VIHA and the Ministry of Health say they are designated for future use and cannot be used at this time.

When there are a high number of patients admitted through the emergency department and waiting for a bed in the hospital, VIHA uses a number of areas throughout the hospital as flow-through spaces, said Marshall.

The sunrooms have become areas that VIHA uses to park incoming patients when it knows there are other patients who are going to be discharged on the same floor and unit, according to VIHA.

"There are a number of things that contribute to the number of people in hospital right now - it's not just about how many people come, but how sick they are and how long they need to stay in hospital," Marshall said. "Acuity levels are higher in the winter."

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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