Emergency room doctors are the latest health-care professionals to sound the alarm about what they say is substandard care at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
They say the facility is getting overcrowded without enough doctors to oversee their care.
“What’s different is that there’s an unprecedented situation of holding patients that have been admitted to hospital but without any physician assigned to look after them,” said Dr. Christopher Rumball, who works in the ER.
Rumball says patients being rostered in the department has happened before, but never where there wasn’t another physician who could supervise and direct their care.
“We say it’s unsafe. I just did a straw poll. There’s nobody that I spoke to in there just recently that thinks this is a safe situation.”
Rumball said Wednesday afternoon the emergency room had 20 admitted patients, of which 16 have no family doctor. Fifteen were on stretchers, with some in the hallway and one in a converted closet.
“It’s not a very safe and caring situation for our patients,” he said.
Rumball says the problem stems from a shortage of hospitalists in Nanaimo, doctors who oversee care once patients are admitted. Island Health has been trying to recruit some but two are leaving later this month. Meanwhile, the hospitalists are without a contract.
“Not settling this contract and having negotiations drag out for literally for years has been now like throwing gasoline on a fire. We’ve lost hospitalists. We can’t replace them quickly,” said Rumball.
Island Health admits it’s not ideal but stresses that people who need urgent care are still getting it in the emergency room.
“Emergency care is affected very little by this,” said Marko Peljhan, Island Health’s vice president of clinical services for central and south Vancouver Island.
“If you’re admitted into hospital, there is a chance that you will have a delay to be seen by your admitting physician.”
Peljhan says Nanaimo’s hospital could immediately use four or five hospitalists and would like to recruit even more to get a full staffing complement. However, physician recruitment remains a challenge across the country.
“We are working very closely with our hospitalists and continue to negotiate with them to get to a fair and equitable contract and one that’s going to help them recruit,” said Peljhan.
Tanya Connor, who doesn’t have a family doctor, recently went to the ER for severe arthritis pain in her hands and feet and experienced a wait though she wasn’t admitted.
“At least four hours to even just be seen by a nurse,” said Connor. “I sure hope they sign a contract soon ’cause otherwise, we’re just going to lose a bunch of doctors that will move somewhere else and get paid higher.”
Surrey hospitalists in Fraser Health recently signed a contract that may reflect the compensation wanted in Nanaimo. They’re now paid just over $174 an hour.
In a statement Health Minister Adrian Dix said “We are actively working with physicians and are back at the negotiations table this week. This is particularly important as we know that landing on a new contract will help recruit more hospitalists to NRGH.”
Dix goes on to say “the Ministry of Health is focused on retention and recruitment of health care workers and investing in our public healthcare system, which was chronically underfunded under the previous government.”
On Tuesday, a group of health professionals and politicians criticized the inequity of cardiac services for central and north Vancouver Island compared to the South Island.