Overcrowding not unique to Abbotsford hospital: union

Fraser Health says most patients wait three hours in the emergency room before seeing a doctor.

The head of the BC Nurses’ Union called out the Fraser Health Authority last week over congestion in its hospitals after two deaths at the hospital in Abbotsford.

But overcrowding is by no means unique to that facility, and has plagued many hospitals within Fraser Health for years, without much change.

About a month ago, three-year-old Nimrat Gill died after being sent home the day before from Abbotsford Regional Hospital, and the week before that, 56-year-old Mary Louise Murphy died shortly after she was sent home from the ER.

RELATED: Crowded ERs linked to patient deaths, doctor errors

Following a recent tour through Abbotsford Regional, nurses’ union president Gail Duteil called on Fraser Health “to act immediately to address the ongoing lack of effective management.”

“This is a systemic issue that has been going on for at least the last two years,” she said. “This history of mismanagement and risk to patients has to be addressed by the Fraser Health Authority Board. We keep sounding the alarm every way we can with management but they continue to ignore this serious problem.”

Most recent data provided shows only one facility consistently under capacity

According to a Fraser Health report from last September, 37 per cent of patients were moved to a hospital bed within 10 hours, with the average patient waiting a little more than three hours before seeing a physician for initial assessment, compared to B.C.’s average wait time of 2.8 hours.

Hospitals where patients have to wait the longest include Langley Memorial (4.5 hours), Surrey Memorial (four hours), and Mission Memorial (3.3 hours).

A report released in 2014 – the most recent report of its kind – said that only one of Fraser Heath’s hospitals, the Queen’s Park & Fellburn Care Centre in New Westminster, was consistently under capacity in most of the 2013/14 year.

The rest, particularly Mission Memorial, Abbotsford Regional, Peace Arch and Delta, were consistently more than 10 per cent over capacity.

Fraser Health could not provide more updated information by deadline, but Duteil said three years later, not much has changed.

“Surrey Memorial is routinely admitting over 80 patients, waiting for admission into a bed, going as high as 100,” she said. The maximum capacity is 75 patients.

CEO: Work needs to be done in the community, not the hospital

Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank said progress has been made over the years to clear up congestion, as the health authority focuses on increasing “care in the community” instead of at a hospital.

Marchbank referred to three initiatives that are already underway: adding 400 residential care beds across the region, increasing home support services for seniors, and reducing the number of patients that have been in hospitals for longer than 30 days from 541 patients last year to 436 now. That’s a difference of about 20 per cent.

Reducing the dependence on the acute care system frees up those beds for other patients, he said, and gives more appropriate care to others who’d prefer to be at home.

But, according to reports, despite the boost in beds, the number of beds per person over the age of 75 is lower than three years ago. And wait times to get a residential care bed have dramatically increased.

“There is no doubt that during various times we are congested in our sites, but we are seeing progress,” Marchbank said.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Terry Lake spoke about hospital overcrowding in the legislature, saying, “Winter is a busy season, that’s a reality.”

But Duteil says winter is not an excuse: that nursing staff within Fraser Health are continuously having to make room in hospital hallways to admit patients year-round.