RCH closes two ICU beds

Royal Columbian Hospital recently temporarily closed two beds in its intensive care unit because of a shortage of specialized staff. - NewsLeader file photo
Royal Columbian Hospital recently temporarily closed two beds in its intensive care unit because of a shortage of specialized staff.
— image credit: NewsLeader file photo

The B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU) is sounding an alarm after two critical care beds were closed at Royal Columbian Hospital recently

Fraser Health said it temporarily closed the beds last week until Sept. 30 due to what it called staffing challenges caused by a number of staff on leave.

The closure reduced the unit's beds from 18 to 16.

"When you have even two beds closed that's a concern for us, and a concern for the nurses," said BCNU vice-president Christine Sorensen. "Our concern about staffing has been a long-held concern and there aren't any really good plans in place for coverage when departments are short staffed. There's not enough attention to training, there aren't adequate numbers of specialty training programs."

Sorensen said planning and hiring for vacancies, vacations and work load should be carried out to avoid a situation like RCH where beds are closed in the summer.

"This occurs year round and those beds are required," said Sorensen. "Some of those patients who are so critically ill will come through the [emergency] department and if those [ICU] beds are closed those patients will have to wait [in emergency]. Not an ideal situation. These are patients who require the supervision and care of an ICU not an emergency department."

NDP health critic and New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy said it's incumbent on the government to solve the shortages. She said the BC Liberals promised they would hire 2,200 new nurses, but that hasn't happened.

"They are very far from meeting that target, but it's like trying to pin jelly to the wall to get actual hard numbers," said Darcy. "The staff at RCH will tell you they are short in every department. ICU is not like any department in a hospital. You can't just transfer from one department to another."

Darcy said those in critical condition need a full team of specialized staff and if it's not there it will cause even more of a backlog in RCH's emergency department than already exists.

"We certainly know that story over, and over and over again at Royal Columbian. So it's really disturbing in it's the same old story of staffing shortages at Royal Columbian," said Darcy. "I feel like the government is at asleep of the switch. The BC Liberals promise a balanced budget but at what expense?"

Fraser Health's executive director for critical care Lakh Bagri said additional beds will be opened if there's a need.

"If a patient requires care only available at Royal Columbian they will receive that care," said Bagri in an email to the NewsLeader.

He noted 13 additional critical care beds have been added with the opening of the critical care tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital so the temporary closure does not represent diminished capacity in the region.

Bagri said Fraser Health is addressing the issue. "We continue to invest in specialty education training for our nurses and have some upcoming initiatives in the coming months that will increase the number of ICU trained nurses."

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