March 01, 2011 at 2:24 PM
Staff at Royal Columbian Hospital near Vancouver were forced to turn the facility's Tim Hortons outlet into an emergency room on Monday night because of a shortage of beds.
There has been a shortage of beds at New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital for several years. (CBC)
The Fraser Health Authority says beds were set up for five patients between 11:15 p.m. PT and 12:45 a.m. in the coffee shop adjacent to the emergency room of the New Westminster hospital.
Director of public affairs David Plug says the space inside the Tim Horton's is a "designated overflow area" to be used in extreme high-volume situations where the emergency room sees an unexpected surge.
That's what happened on Monday night when around 100 patients checked into the emergency room, said Plug.
"Five patients with stretchers and privacy screens were monitored and assessed [at the Tim Hortons]," he said.
The conditions are not ideal, but they are appropriate and safe, said Plug.
The hospital has suffered from a shortage of bed and an overcrowded emergency room for several years. In May 2008 the hospital announced plans to build a temporary portable emergency room in the parking lot to ease overcrowding.
Plug says the hospital needs an expansion, but other facilities run by the Fraser Health Authority are first in line.
"We've built a new hospital in Abbotsford, We're working to build a new critical care tower at Surrey hospital at our regional hospital there, and Royal Columbian Hospital would then be next," he said.
But one emergency doctor at Royal Columbian disagrees. Dr. Sheldon Glazer said corridors and coffee shops are not adequate for patients.
"We can't appropriately examine someone in a hallway. We can't get them undressed. We can't do a thorough examination on a patient in a waiting room," said Glazer.
Treating people in makeshift conditions leads to mistakes and poor care, Glazer said, but it also points to a larger problem.
"There are not enough hospital beds in the system and the emergency room ends up being an overflow ward of the hospital, so that emergency patients, patients who have the acute problems, have to be seen in chairs, in hallways or now in a coffee shop," he said.
B.C. Nurses Union president Debra McPherson blames the health authority and the government for overcrowding.
"I don't know what it's going to take to get this government out of its coma of inaction, and for the Fraser Health Authority in particular to wake up and smell the coffee and finally admit that it has problems," said McPherson.
NDP health critic Adrian Dix has blamed what he calls the ill-conceived decision to shut down nearby St. Mary's Hospital in 2004 and under funding for acute-care beds.