The BC Nurses' Union is worried about children's medical care after a move to convert pediatric beds for adult use at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Fraser Health is using eight pediatric day care surgery beds to help absorb emergency room congestion, but stresses the change is temporary.
Linda Pipe, BCNU Fraser Valley chair, said it's not safe for kids to be housed with adults, and children may be forced to wait longer in the ER ward or be transferred to hospitals in distant communities.
"You've got adults mixed with children and it's not always appropriate they are in the same place," said Pipe.
"They have to have guidelines for the types of patients they can admit, but sometimes you don't know certain things about patients."
ARH is home to the only pediatrics department in the Fraser East region, and cutting back available beds might force the transfer of child patients to other hospitals, said Pipe.
"Somebody from Hope may have to go to Surrey. It's already a hardship for them to come to Abbotsford."
Nurses are also worried children will have to wait longer to be admitted, and there will be fewer beds to isolate children who might be suffering communicable diseases, such as respiratory illnesses or viruses, she added.
David Portesi, Fraser Health interim executive director of pediatric care, said the beds in the ARH unit are under utilized and can be safely converted for adult patients to ease congestion.
Twelve children's beds, which generally have an occupancy rate of 85 per cent, remain available along with six overflow beds for pediatric patients, said Portesi.
Physical alterations to the "flex space" won't allow access to the pediatric unit from the adult area, which can be switched back to children's beds if the demand is there, he said.
No adult patients will be accommodated at the expense of children, said Portesi.
"We will not turn children away or cancel or delay surgeries to grant adults beds. Those are firm principles we work with," he said.
However, given the construction costs involved Pipe is doubtful Fraser Health will return the beds to the pediatrics unit and the health authority is simply creating one problem to solve another.
"We proposed other [cheaper] alternatives to Fraser Health. They say it's a temporary move and not an issue, but it is an issue when you're working in it, and kids deserve better."
Portesi said he understands the nurses' concerns stem from a commitment to their young patients but suggests that their fears may ease as the plan goes forward.
"At the end of the day if we can show them we can maintain our capacity for our pediatric patients . . . I suspect their fears will be allayed over time."
- Fraser Health recently released a report on its 150-day campaign - ordered by the province - to address hospital over congestion and C. difficile infection rates.
The use of hallway beds to accommodate FHA patients has dropped by 60 per cent, according to Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma.
However, only 58 per cent of patients are being admitted to a regular hospital bed within 10 hours of arriving in ER units, which is better than the prior 51 per cent but lower than the provincial goal of 61 per cent.
- with a file from the Vancouver Sun