“Hallway medicine” in Canada may be nothing new but tell that to the patients experiencing the makeshift emergency care.
Karen Sidhu has first-hand knowledge of that experience after being admitted to Surrey Memorial Hospital for internal bleeding last month and spending her entire stay — three days — stuck in the hallway.
“We sat in the emergency dept for about six-and-a-half hours,” Sidhu told Global News.
“Then they admitted me and I was shocked I was going to be stationed in the hallway along with about 35 other patients.”
Sidhu described being put in an area near the paramedic bay with “glowing florescent lights” that were “beating down” on her, not allowing her to sleep. Every time the bay doors opened, she was hit with a blast of cold air.
Eventually the long-time Surrey resident took it upon herself to find another area to try to get some rest. Taking her IV pole and finding a few blankets and a pillow, Sidhu settled into the patient family room, which had a couch.
“I was freezing,” she said. “I had about seven blankets on me and it still didn’t work.”
The next day Sidhu found out a procedure needed to be done to find out where the bleeding was originating. Following the procedure, which included being put under general anesthetic, Sidhu was returned to the hallway.
With strangers walking back and forth constantly, she never felt safe and she felt that performing medical care in the hallway exposed her private, personal information to anyone within earshot.
“When my doctor came to see me, there were people standing around and he was talking about my private, personal information about the treatment I was about to go through,” Sidhu said.
“He couldn’t help it. It was really unacceptable.”
Throughout her Surrey Memorial ordeal, Sidhu never blamed the staff.
“Let me emphasize that the staff, the nurses and the doctors are first-class, they are not the problem,” Sidhu said.
“The problem here is the fact that I understand that Fraser Health has shutdown 80 acute care beds in Surrey because of a community-based program. I don’t find that acceptable. As a taxpayer in B.C. I feel that we have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Following Sidhu’s experience, a letter was sent to staff from the hospital’s administration, which included information about patient volumes in Surrey.
According to the letter, “ER departments do not turn people away” and congestion and patient volumes are “issues across the country.” The administration is “aware patient volumes at Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency department have increased significantly” but goes on to say the hospital is seeing 55 more patients a day then they were two years ago.
The decision to stop using inpatient beds in hallways on units and instead put them in emergency departments was made, the letter states, “in the best interest of our patients.”
Sidhu could not disagree more with the hospital administration’s reasoning.
“It was really unacceptable and I was infuriated about the fact that these doctors and nurses are left to continually apologize for the conditions of the hospital. To hear the excuse that this happens across the country is unacceptable,” she said.
She says she’s not angry but incredibly frustrated.
“I’m frustrated because I know that Surrey is about to be largest city in the province and we have a hospital that needs to be expanded significantly,” she said.
“I feel that Fraser Health needs to take a real hard look at what’s happening in here in Surrey.”
Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley, echoes Sidhu’s sentiments.
“Surrey is the fastest growing city in the Lower Mainland and in B.C. and the facilities simply haven’t kept pace with the growth,” Ralston told Global News.
“There was land reserved for a hospital at 152nd and Highway 10 bought many years ago and the government sold it off to balance their budget, so the BC Liberals aren’t planning ahead for the people of Surrey… It’s more than just patient flow, it’s dealing with the needs of a big city like Surrey and it hasn’t been done.”
This isn’t the first time there have been concerns about overcrowding in Surrey Memorial’s emergency room. Earlier in March, Meredith McClurg had a similar experience after her husband was rushed Surrey Memorial by ambulance and left to be treated in the hallway for three days.
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Other Fraser Health patients have had similar stories. An 86-year-old woman was left in a hallway at Peace Arch Hospital for three days before being moved to another ward.
~ with files from Jon Azpiri