B.C.’s minister of health says there will be a “full and comprehensive review” after the death of a 70-year-old patient early Wednesday morning in the waiting room of Royal Inland Hospital’s emergency department in Kamloops, a city of about 100,000 people 270 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
Adrian Dix expressed condolences to the deceased woman’s family and repeatedly urged British Columbians to get vaccinated to help relieve ongoing strains that COVID-19 infections are placing on the health-care system.
“I understand [the family’s] grief. The issue will be fully reviewed both by Interior Health and the patient care and quality review board,” Dix said at a media availability Thursday.
The exact details of what happened remain unclear, as health authorities have declined comment due to privacy issues.
The patient’s daughter called Kamloops’s CHNL radio station on Wednesday reporting that her mother had died in pain, awaiting help for severe abdominal pain with another family member.
Amanda Young told NL’s Colton Davies that her mother was initially checked but left waiting for hours in pain. CBC has been unable to reach the woman’s family.
Family members have yet to speak to CBC, but a Royal Inland Hospital nurse whose identity the CBC has agreed not to publish corroborated many of the details and said the patient died in a “crowded” waiting room after a six-hour wait.
The nurse said that emergency room deaths are “highly unusual.”
“Seventy is not considered that old, and when someone comes in with abdominal pain, you don’t leave or expect to leave on a gurney to the funeral home,” said the nurse.
Witnesses said there were up to 20 people in the waiting room around the time the woman died.
Nurse staffing was also short, according to two other nurses and a woman who was in the waiting room.
Interior Health officials have not offered any details about staffing or the number of people who were waiting for care at the time of the death.
Royal Inland Hospital recruiting
When pressed Thursday about the situation at Royal Inland, Dix said that non-urgent scheduled surgeries have been cancelled and there is an ongoing effort to recruit staff to the hospital. Dix said the Kamloops vaccination rate also needs to be higher.
“What [front-line medical staff] need is the help of those people, the 14.7 per cent of British Columbians who are unvaccinated, to get vaccinated,” Dix repeated.
At least one other senior failed to get treatment after heading to emergency Tuesday night.
Lorraine Farrell said that she was in the emergency department at Royal Inland Hospital with her 88-year-old mother who was suffering from chest pains. She said that they arrived at 6 p.m. but left after four hours of waiting when Farrell said she was told to expect another three-hour wait for care.
‘Could have been my mom’
Farrell says she watched a patient with stomach pains, accompanied by a younger woman. She said the stranger vomited several times but never saw a doctor. It’s not known whether that was the same woman who died later that night.
Farrell said that she finally left emergency after her mother said she’d “rather die at home” than wait any longer in pain in a chair.
“This was so upsetting because that could have been my mom. I sure don’t want it to happen to anybody else,” said Farrell.
Hospital strained by COVID
Karen Bloemink, the vice-president of human resources population health and pandemic response for Interior Health, said that spiking coronavirus infections are straining Royal Inland and other hospitals.
“I cannot comment on the specifics of [the death]. We are seeing elevated COVID-19 cases and this increase in cases does have an impact on our hospital services capacity and on services that are provided,” said Bloemink.
Royal Inland Hospital has been plagued with reports of understaffing and burnout in recent weeks. Staff told CBC they’ve each been dealing with far more patients than normal and many ER nurses have quit.
For the past three weeks, elective surgeries have been cancelled, in part due to a surge of COVID-19 patients and wildfire-related injuries.
Two-thirds of the emergency nurses at Royal Inland Hospital have left their jobs in recent months, claiming they were exhausted and understaffed, according to multiple nurses and doctors who spoke to CBC News three weeks ago.
Judy Duchscher, associate professor of nursing at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, said there are a variety of pressures on the health-care system and hospitals in her area with COVID, wildfires and the ongoing opioid crisis.
“The system is under a tremendous amount of strain … it’s complex but it’s a problem,” she said. “We are in a crisis right now.”