An advocate for B.C. patients is speaking out in the wake of several high-profile walkaways from Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH).
Gavin Deloes, one of those patients who had suffered head trauma in a traffic accident, was found dead in a wooded area near Burnaby Lake days after walking away from the New Westminster Hospital in May.
Nicolas Turnbull told Global News he was able to wander four kilometres from RCH in April after a traumatic brain injury from a car crash.
Police safely located a third man Wednesday who had been absent from the facility for nearly a week.
Connie Jorsvik, a former nurse at Royal Columbian, said preventing unauthorized walkaways is a regular issue for health-care workers.
“Our patients wandered away all the time. There were a lot of patients, and Royal Columbian and Surrey Memorial are high risk for that,” said Jorsvik.
“Patients wander a lot and it’s hard to tell what they’ve wandered to. It might take 20 minutes to an hour for somebody to realize that something has happened.”
From January to May of 2020, Fraser Health says there were five walkaways — so-called “Code Yellows” — from RCH.
Jorsvik said it is not uncommon for people to get up from their beds, and it is not easy for staff to realize immediately if they’ve gone outside to smoke.
Dr. Steven Reynolds, site medical director for Royal Columbian Hospital, told Global News an in-depth review is underway to identify what went wrong in Deloes’ and other recent cases.
Reynolds said “as a general rule” the hospital has someone constantly monitoring patients who have been deemed unsafe to leave on their own, and that there are physical barriers, such as locked doors, to keep them in care.
But he said it’s always possible for staff to become distracted, or for a visitor to hold a door open.
“You need to have multiple things that line up in a wrong way for something to go bad,” he said.
“What you need to do in those circumstances is essentially minimize those errors as best as possible, and force-function the system so that even if one thing fails or doesn’t do a good job, or there’s some special circumstance at one, it gets corrected or caught by the other parts of the system.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re looking pretty carefully at.”
Reynolds said he and the care team have been distressed by the recent incidents, and that he was reaching out to speak with the affected families.
He added that allegations by Deloes’ family that they had not been notified of the man’s situation “particularly distressing,” but noted that the hospital must also negotiate the medical privacy rights of adult individuals.
Jorsvik said bringing families into the care equation earlier, particularly when dealing with head injury or dementia patients, would be an important measure to help prevent future tragedies.
“If family had been called in to say we’ve got your loved one here, he’s had a head injury, it would be great if someone was with him, that person could put the extra eyes. Because in an ER a nurse might have 10 patients, a doctor is never in charge of watching for their patients.
“Patients come and go to the bathroom. It’s hard to tell at what point something happens.”
Reynolds said the reviews at RCH would take several weeks, and that the results would be shared with the affected families. However, the findings of those results may never be released publicly.