A patient is decrying overcrowded conditions at Campbell River’s new hospital after his bed was placed in a hallway, and his story is raising questions about capacity issues in the provincial health care system.
“The hospital is just over capacity,” said Campbell River resident Mark Sernes, who was hospitalized recently for an acute pancreatic condition. “Fantastic facility, but unfortunately it’s just too small.”
Mark Sernes had a bed in a double-occupancy room at the hospital, where he was recovering after three nights of intensive care last month.
He spent two nights in a general ward before staff moved his bed into a hallway on Nov. 29.
With people constantly walking through a nearby door, he said, the area was noisy and there was no privacy.
“There would be no way anyone could get any sleep there,” Sernes said. “It would be next to impossible, unless they were heavily sedated.”
Sernes asked for his medication and went home, saying he’d return for tests the next day at 6 a.m.
“I basically refused to stay there,” he said, adding that the experience was highly stressful.
Sernes later asked staff why he’d been shunted into the hallway. A nurse told him that he was considered mobile and the healthiest person in the ward. Sernes said no doctors were involved in the decision.
“They’re making these decisions on whether somebody’s mobile or not, or can go to the bathroom by themselves,” Sernes said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the healthiest person.”
It wasn’t the first time Sernes had experienced hospital overcrowding. During a stay at Campbell River’s old hospital, he was placed in a hallway bed – and he said it aggravated his condition.
Sernes stressed that he’s not blaming staff, but rather that his problem is with an overburdened health care system.
“Everyone’s just doing their best but overworked,” Sernes said.
He urged other patients to come forward with their concerns.
“That’s the only way we’re going to get anywhere, if we stand in numbers,” he said.
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|Local resident Mark Sernes is speaking out about what he calls overcrowded conditions at the Campbell River hospital. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror|
The Mirror reported in 2012 that the old hospital was “overflowing.” The following year, a group of doctors – along with MLA Claire Trevena, who is now Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure – spoke out about plans for the 95-bed facility, saying it wouldn’t be enough for patients’ needs.
The doctors also said they felt they’d been “coerced” into accepting plans for the new facility, which opened last year.
BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) president Christine Sorensen said on Tuesday that the union is completely opposed to “hallway nursing” but that it’s becoming the new normal.
“Patients languishing in hallways is considered unacceptable,” she said. “We have always said that hallway nursing in any hospital poses a risk to safe patient care.”
Those risks include the outbreak of infections and blocked emergency exits, Sorensen said. She also noted that it causes distress among nurses because it prevents them from providing quality care.
Sorensen said that while seasonal maladies like the flu account for some of the overcrowding, B.C.’s health care system faces a number of complex issues.
Too few nurses are stretched among a growing number of patients, an issue that’s been worsening significantly over the past 5-7 years, Sorensen said.
Community health and long-term care services – which are meant to reduce pressure on hospital beds – also fall short, meaning that people end up back in the hospital, Sorensen said. She called for a greater number of funded beds.
“We encourage patients who need acute care services in the emergency room to come – nurses will be there to provide the care they need – unfortunately, that may be in a hallway, and it is not how nurses like to provide care,” she said.
Island Health said in a statement that hospitals across the province are “incredibly busy” and that “capacity issues are an ongoing challenge, particularly when seasonal illnesses such as influenza (are) a factor.”
When patient surges occur, hospitals open temporary overflow areas and “all patients are cared for with appropriate staffing levels,” according to the statement, which was attributed to Dermot Kelly, a regional executive director with Island Health.
“In extremely busy times, we may care for patients in areas such as hallways,” Kelly said, adding that certain protocols are in place to “provide the best care possible” in those cases.
Kelly acknowledged that staff are stretched at the Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals, noting that those facilities have some 90 job vacancies combined. Both areas have rental and housing affordability issues, creating problems for staff recruitment and retention, he said.
He noted strategies are underway to address capacity problems, including “work to reduce the length of stay within hospital and improve access to care in the community,” citing a variety of measures geared towards people with mental health or substance abuse issues, and services for the medically frail.
He also pointed to $75 million in spending the B.C. government announced in June for the expansion of respite care and adult day programs, which are meant to take pressure off of those who provide care to friends and relatives at home or in the community.
Kelly also said Island Health has increased the number of surgeries being performed at hospitals on the North Island in accordance with a provincial government surgical strategy announced in March.
“While this has resulted in more surgeries being performed and reduced wait times, it has increased the number (of) hospital visits and stays,” said Kelly, who is responsible for the North Island region and part of the central coast.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada has 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants, the fifth-lowest rate among the OECD’s 36 countries.