Brenda Campbell often needs to stay at the hospital once or twice a year for treatment as she deals with her systemic bone infection.
She can normally get a room or be in and out the door within 24 hours. This week, however, Campbell spent three days in a bed in the hallway at the Pasqua Hospital before receiving a room, watching health-care staff scramble to help hundreds of patients at the overcapacity facility.
“The hallway is the worst place to be when you’re really sick. There’s no privacy and it’s so loud in emergency,” said Campbell’s daughter, Lori, in an interview on Thursday. “This isn’t on our health-care professionals. They’re doing what they can and the doctor was great, but it’s just really unacceptable that we’re in this situation.”
Brenda’s stay in the hallway comes as health centers in Saskatchewan deal with a swell of patients accessing emergency rooms because they are sick.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said in a statement the province is experiencing an influx of respiratory viruses, like colds and influenza, resulting in more hospitalizations and strain on the system.
Data provided to the Leader-Post shows five of six hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon were near or above capacity on Thursday.
The Pasqua and Saskatoon’s Royal University hospitals were at 113 per cent capacity; St. Paul’s in Saskatoon was 110 percent; the Regina General and Saskatoon City hospitals were near 99 per cent; and Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital was at 82 per cent.
The SHA stated it expects this trend of higher levels of respiratory viruses to continue.
“The doctor told me they’re like 130 people over capacity,” Lori said. “And I’m like, that’s a lot. People are sick and most people are trying to be responsible.”
Brenda was admitted to the Pasqua on Sunday. While waiting in the hallway, she had her book and phone but was struggling to rest, Lori said.
Lori said family members didn’t visit her while she was in the hallway because they didn’t want to be in the way. By Wednesday night, Brenda got a room, allowing Lori to finally visit her the next morning.
“I can take her a cup of coffee, get her a puzzle book, take her brush and take care of a few things that are sort of like human dignity kind of things,” she said. “When you’re in a rough state and people are around, combing your hair would be nice.”
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Like Brenda, many people seeking care in hospitals are experiencing longer-than-normal waits to see a doctor.
Earlier this week, Janna Pratt waited nearly 20 hours for a pediatric bed for her four-year-old daughter, Jream.
Jream was born with brain cancer and has five malignant tumors that can cause seizures. Pratt had noticed Jream’s breathing was irregular Sunday night. The child later had a seizure and was taken to the Regina General around 2 am Monday morning.
They received an emergency room bed, but it took 20 hours before they got the pediatric bed.
“By the time they sent us up to the ward, the nurses were telling me that they were so short staffed, that there was six or seven kids per nurse,” Pratt told reporters at the legislature on Wednesday, noting that Jream again required emergency care that day.
“We need to protect our health-care,” she said. “We’ve got nurses and they can’t be burning out. We need to care for them as much as they care for our children.”
In its statement, the SHA said emergency rooms don’t operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Patients are instead triaged to ensure doctors are seeing those with more severe illnesses and life-threatening situations.
During this cold season, the authority has encouraged people to stay home when sick, wash hands, physical distance and wear a mask if they choose to do so, particularly if in contact with people deemed high risk.
Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Health Minister Paul Merriman have said masks won’t be mandated.
When asked about the government’s plan should hospitals continue to swell, Merriman told reporters on Wednesday he would want the SHA to come back with a plan “if they are at capacity (to) see how we can manage this.”
He added, “We’ve done it before during the pandemic and I’m confident that they’ll be able to do it again.”
During Question Period on Thursday, NDP health critic Vicki Mowat had asked Merriman to inject targeted funding into emergency rooms, saying the government abandoned former Premier Brad Wall’s plan to have no wait-times by 2017.
In response, Merriman said the government’s $60 million plan to hire and retain workers is targeted.
Meanwhile, Campbell said having more health-care staff that are supported would help ensure people, like her mom, don’t spend days in a hallway.
She also said additional upstream services that address mental health and addictions would help relieve the burden on hospitals.
“We’re losing health practitioners. They are excellent and we can’t be demanding this much on them,” she said. “I just find it all concerning.”
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