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Royal Jubilee overcrowding to be eased by closing beds at Victoria General Hospital

Mar 09 2012
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.Stat 

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.Stat

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com

The Vancouver Island Health Authority is closing 16 beds at one hospital and opening 17 at another in what nurses say amounts to a shell game to deal with emergency room overcrowding.

Sixteen so-called “winter pressure beds” at Victoria General Hospital that are housing patients waiting to for beds in residential care facilities will be closed through attrition, VIHA announced in a memo to staff and physicians Thursday.

At the same time, VIHA is opening 17 beds at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

“In order to improve and support quality patient care and patient flow at the Royal Jubilee Hospital during this period of unprecedented need, we are opening 17 temporary ALC beds on RJH 4NW starting tomorrow Friday, March 9 or sooner if possible,” reads the VIHA memo.

The health authority provided statistics this week that show Royal Jubilee has been similarly busy in past years during the winter.

The bed shuffle will result in a net gain of one bed, to deal with an unrelenting problem of patients admitted through Royal Jubilee’s emergency department and waiting in stretchers in hallways and sunrooms for an in-patient bed.

“This is really only one more bed in the system,” said Adriane Gear, south Island co-chairperson for the B.C. Nurses Union. “They’re just moving numbers really. Time will tell.”

The Times Colonist has been reporting on hospital overcrowding, with nurses saying they fear for their patients due to the number of people piling up in the ER department.

This week the Times Colonist reported sunrooms, meant to serve as waiting rooms in the Patient Care Centre, are filling up with stretchers and being used overnight by patients waiting for beds.

VIHA 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.

But the south Island branch of the B.C. Nurses Union says this year is the worst they’ve seen yet, saying they are horrified at the conditions for patients.

Royal Jubilee’s sunrooms are equipped with chairs and phones for families and patients. They are not equipped with safety features such as oxygen or a call bell for assistance or suction, said Gear, in an earlier interview.

Despite earlier assurances that the sunrooms — which VIHA refers to in this context as “flow-through spaces,” or areas to hold patients temporarily — 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.

“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 nurses’ union has argued 136 beds are 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.

“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 have been standing firm, until today, that the beds are designated for future use and cannot be used at this time.

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