Nurses at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital are protesting overcrowding at the medical facility after a young woman died in a hallway bed early Christmas morning.
Linda Pipe, spokeswoman for the Fraser Valley region of the B.C. Nurses' Union, said the growing practice of stacking patients in hallways at ARH puts patients at risk and doesn't allow for a dignified or healing care environment.
Pipe, who didn't discuss the patient's medical condition for privacy reasons, said it wasn't clear yet why the 20-year-old woman located on the third floor of the Cheam medical ward died.
However, the BCNU strongly opposes "hallway nursing," which is becoming the norm at ARH, said Pipe.
"It's a persistent problem at every hospital in the health authority. They are all over capacity."
On Tuesday, Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster was so overcrowded it set up multiple beds in its lobby.
That follows media attention in March when the hospital had to put overflow ER patients into an adjacent Tim Hortons restaurant.
On very busy days there may be up 20 or more ARH patients in the emergency ward waiting for beds, Pipe said.
"[ARH] then has a "code gridlock" and moves them out of ER hallways . . . but medical wards may already have an overcount," said Pipe.
"People aren't happy when family members, particularly the elderly, are treated in the halls," said Pipe.
On average, a patient can be for two to three days, but that it can be longer, she said.
Hallway beds don't have the same safety equipment available with beds in rooms, she added.
"There's no suction, you have to bring oxygen tanks and there aren't always outlets to plug in equipment," said Pipe.
"Extension cords across the floor are safety hazards for patients and staff, and people in the hall are not observed readily because they are tucked into nooks and crannies."
Patients are subject to extra light and noise and often can't sleep well, she added.
Roy Thorpe-Dorward, Fraser Health Authority spokesman, said a patient care review was being conducted around the death and the B.C. Coroners Service is also investigating. The health authority always launches a care review with an unanticipated death, as does the coroner, who will determine if further actions are required.
The investigations are not triggered by the fact the woman was in a hall bed, Thorpe-Dorward said.
The young woman, deemed an appropriate candidate for hallway care by medical staff, was admitted to ARH on Dec. 21 and remained in the hall bed until she died Christmas morning, he confirmed.
Overflow patients, usually considered stable and mobile, get the same quality of care and are monitored as often as those in private rooms, he said.
"Palliative care patients would not be placed in the hallway . . . this is an unexpected outcome."
ARH, which opened in 2008, has a 268-bed capacity and there are no immediate plans to expand it, said Thorpe-Dorward.
In recent months, ARH has averaged about 10 overflow patients a day while 70 to 100 patients is the average across the region, he said.
"Keep in mind, that is from a total of 2,300 hospital beds across Fraser Health."
Increasing congestion is a system-wide issue and simply adding more beds to ARH will not resolve the problem, said Thorpe-Dorward.
A total of 151 new beds are being added to Surrey Memorial in 2014, and a business case to expand Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster is in the works.
The health authority is also investing in new home support, home health and chronic care facilities to reduce the demand on hospital's primary care beds.
Fraser Health's preference is to see all patients admitted to private care rooms, said Thorpe-Dorward.
"Patients in overflow areas is not the ideal and it's not what we strive for, but it is the reality of a busy hospital when all the patient beds are full."