Victoria woman says RJH asked her to come feed 87-year-old mom due to staffing shortage

Victoria woman says RJH asked her to come feed 87-year-old mom due to staffing shortage

A Vancouver Island woman says she was asked by an employee at a Victoria hospital to come and feed her mother because there wasn’t enough staff available to care for her.

Helen Bell says she received a phone call on Monday from Royal Jubilee Hospital informing her that her 87-year-old mother, Margaret Mears, hasn’t been fed due to a shortage of staff and that she should come and provide care.

“[The hospital was] asking us to please come in and take turns to cover all three meals of feeding her because they didn’t have enough staff. So, that was kind of alarming to get that call,” said Bell.

Mears has been a patient in acute care at Royal Jubilee Hospital for weeks and is recovering from surgery. She is also disabled and unable to use her hands to feed herself or properly care for herself following a reaction to antibiotics.

According to Bell, the staffing shortage at RJH is so bad that her mother went weeks without a shower and that many other patients aren’t getting the quality care they need and deserve.

“She actually went three weeks without a shower. That’s pretty rough. you come into the hospital and think you are going to be fed and kept clean,” she said. “Basic things.”

According to the Ministry of Health, more than 17,000 healthcare workers in B.C. called in sick the last week of January. Within Island Health, 3,406 staff members called in sick between Jan. 24 and Jan. 30.

Island Health, in a statement provided to CHEK News, said it does not comment on specific clients or patients or the individualized care they receive, due to privacy legislation and out of respect for patient privacy, but stressed that no one is being denied care or left without being fed.

Despite the current challenges we are experiencing related to staffing levels, patients are still receiving assistance at mealtime when their care plan requires. No one is being denied care or left without being fed,” the statement reads.

Occasionally, according to Island Health, essential visitors may be asked if they are willing to support their loved ones with basic tasks, such as feeding and cleaning.

“On occasion, essential visitors may be asked if they are willing to support their loved one with basic tasks, as this can be very helpful to our teams when we are experiencing particularly challenging staffing issues. In general, when a patient’s loved ones visit them in the hospital for long periods of time, they are asked if they are willing to assist with the basic care needs of their loved one. This may include feeding or other simple care tasks,” the health authority said in its statement.

Island Health said involving families and loved ones in care is a normal practice that has been going on before the pandemic even hit and that patients will be cared for in the event no loved ones are around to provide care or want to provide care.

It is important to note that no one will ever be denied care or left without being fed. If a patient’s essential visitor cannot or does not wish to assist, Island Health will continue to deliver the necessary care.”

During a press conference Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix was specifically asked about Mears’ situation but said he couldn’t comment on the matter directly. He did, however, stress that no patients were denied care or left without being fed.

“No one is ever denied care or left without being fed,” he said. “That simply doesn’t happen. Would not happen in those circumstances.”

Dix also said that even before the pandemic, family members would often be called to care for their loved ones in hospital.

“That happened before the pandemic, and it happens now. And will continue to happen. The issue isn’t that people are not going to be fed. Of course, they are going to be fed. The question is whether staff ask, for a variety of reasons, for family members to come in and assist,” he said.

But Bell just wants the government to acknowledge the toll COVID is taking on patients, such as her mother at Royal Jubilee Hospital, and the health-care system.

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READ MORE: Island Health announces various service adjustments due to staffing shortages, COVID-19

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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