A woman whose elderly dad was left waiting outside of Lions Gate Hospital’s emergency room for three days is speaking up about pressures being faced by overwhelmed staff with no beds available.
Jolene Carlsen’s 86-year-old father was recently taken from his Evergreen care home to Lions Gate suffering from a worsening infection.
When her mother went to see him the next morning, she was surprised to find her husband still on a stretcher outside the emergency department.
He wasn’t the only one, said Carlsen. Up to 14 other patients were also on stretchers in the waiting area, she said.
“There was nowhere for them to go,” she said. “At one point there was only one nurse to care for 14 patients. It was almost impossible for her to care for them.”
Many of the patients had a family member standing beside their stretcher, trying to care for them, she said.
Eventually her father made it into the ER, and was admitted to a bed on the fourth floor of the hospital. He was able to get needed urgent surgery, said Carlsen, and is now on the road to recovery.
Nurses stretched thin
But the situation on the wards is also concerning, she said.
“There’s people on beds in the hallway. The nurses are scrambling. They’re really stretched thin. It’s not the care you would expect.”
Carlsen said she found the situation at the emergency department shocking. “I couldn’t believe this was happening in B.C.”
Carlsen added she doesn’t blame the hospital staff. “They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances,” she said.
Hospitals around the province have been under pressure recently from a fourth wave of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, many of whom are ending up in critical care beds. Some scheduled surgeries requiring overnight stays have been cancelled as staff are re-deployed to care for COVID-19 patients.
Lions Gate Hospital was operating at over 100 per cent capacity at one point last week and even some urgent surgeries were being impacted, according to information obtained by the News.
COVID patients strain hospitals in VCH
As of Sept. 17, there were 12 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Lions Gate. Four of those patients were in critical care, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.
Other hospitals in Vancouver Coastal Health were also straining under the burden of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalizations.
On Sept. 15, there were 68 people hospitalized with COVID in Vancouver Coastal Health. Of those, 26 people were in ICU and 21 of those people were on ventilators.
"This has been immeasurably taxing on our frontline staff," the health authority said in a statement.
"Decreased staffing, along with an increased demand for services has impacted capacity across our sites." As a result, surgeries and other medical procedures at some hospitals have been delayed or cancelled.
Some surgeries cancelled
Peder Ourom, a Squamish resident, who was booked for a knee replacement surgery on Monday was among the patients who had his elective surgery cancelled.
Ourom said he got a call on Wednesday telling him the surgery was off.
He hasn’t been given an estimate of another date, he said.
Ourom said he’s not complaining, but finds the situation in local hospitals concerning. When he went for routine tests at Lions Gate prior to the cancelled surgery “it seemed to be a very bare bones staff,” he said.
Another North Shore woman whose surgery was scheduled for Oct. 28 told the News she got word on Thursday it was cancelled.
She said she was told the cancellation was due to increased numbers of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized.
Carlsen said she contacted Health Minister Adrian Dix about her family’s experience, but has not yet received a response.
In response to recent questions about the crunch in emergency departments, Dix said, “If you need emergency room care you should go to the emergency room.”
Carlsen said, however, that patients may be surprised at what they find there.
“Our nurses are overstretched and our hospitals are over capacity,” she said. “They’re short staffed and they’re short of beds. People need to know about this. It could be you who needs to go to the ER and you’ll be in the same situation.”
In response to questions about Carlsen’s experience, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a statement saying “There’s no question that our health system has faced increased pressures due to several factors including the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We apologize for any delays patients may experience as a result of the increased demand and appreciate their understanding. It continues to be safe to access services at hospitals and health-care clinics in our region.”
Over 80% of hospitalized COVID patients unvaccinated
As of Friday, 298 people were in hospital with COVID province-wide and 135 of those people were in intensive care. Unvaccinated people accounted for 81 per cent of hospitalizations in the past two weeks, according to the province.
The health authority did not respond to questions about how many scheduled surgeries have been cancelled this month at Lions Gate.