According to the CEO of Central Health, Karen McGrath, the number of patients forced to stay on stretchers in hallways due to a lack of beds at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre, and other hospitals in the region, is a concern for the health authority – but not for fire safety reasons.
Several weeks ago, an incident allegedly occurred at the hospital where a patient in the ER was temporarily placed in the hallway on a stretcher because no beds were available. The fire department attended the scene after receiving a complaint about the patient being a possible fire hazard.
But according to McGrath, the department found no hazard. She said the fact that the patient in question was found a room soon after the visit was simply coincidence and had nothing to do with the visit from the department.
“When they are filled in the ER, then hallway stretchers are used all the time. We’re over capacity probably three-to-four days a week, so it’s not unusual,” she told the Advertiser. “As I understand, the individuals in question on those stretchers were moved as a result of us finding other locations for them, and that would happen regularly.”
She said because hospitals commonly have to put patients on stretchers in hallways due to space constraints, they always have an evacuation program in place that takes into account situations of overcapacity. She said the organization has people that are responsible solely for fire safety.
“You won’t find a hospital I don’t think in Canada that doesn’t have people in the hallway, and the issue is, (if they) can be evacuated in the case of a fire, it’s not that they’re in the hallway,” explained McGrath. “The fire commissioner has to be assured by us that there’s a plan in place to evacuate people.”
McGrath added that Central Health has people within the organization that are solely responsible for fire safety.
“There’s a plan in place at all times to evacuate people in the hospital if necessary,” she said. “And that plan is tested regularly.”
Although fire safety isn’t an issue, McGrath admits that hospitals in central and across the province are all dealing with space constraints.
“It’s a problem (for us) but it’s a fact of life; you’d never find hospitals big enough to respond to the most dramatic needs we have on the worst day, so you have to utilize your beds as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
McGrath said hospital do their best to prioritize and make rooms available where the need is greatest, and said in situations where patients must be placed in hallways, they're well taken care of.
“They’re not just sort of left out there not looked after,” she said. “They’re assigned to our staff, and our staff are monitoring them at all times.”
McGrath said this area of the province is more vulnerable to bed shortages for a variety of reasons, one of them being the aging population. She said the central region has the highest percentage of population over 65 than anywhere else in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We know as people age, it is likely they will need healthcare services more,” McGrath said. “We have to be prepared for the elderly.”
McGrath said Central Health has a strategic direction for its hospitals that was implemented last year, and one of the important parts of that is allowing for homecare where appropriate.
“(Central) also has the highest rates of obesity and the highest rates of diabetes,” she said.
She said encouraging a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a healthy diet, and quitting smoking, can improve one’s quality of life and reduce hospital visits.
“There’s loads of things we can do in terms of our own personal responsibility for our health to try and minimize the time we will need hospital services, and acute care hospital services.”