‘Critical’: Doctors, health-care staff sound alarm about Nanaimo hospital

Access to health care continues to be a concern for many living on Vancouver Island.

According to the Fair Care Alliance, half of the island’s population currently receives only one-fifth of the health resources.

Dr. David Coupland, president of the medical staff at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, said they have worked with Island Health but many needs remain unmet, including a patient diagnostic centre.

“The last thing I want to be is here, asking for things our patients need,” Coupland said. “But when you have six people willing to speak, that gives you a sense of how critical things are at our hospital.”

The Fair Care Alliance launched its campaign at an event on Wednesday and Coupland, along with other doctors, specialists, health-care leaders, patients and community leaders, spoke about the dire need for medical care and support on the island — particularly the central and northern areas.

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Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is the busiest emergency department on the island and treats more than 400 inpatients in a 345-bed facility regularly.

Due to its location, it is the tertiary hospital for the entire central and north island, but staff there say it cannot handle the strain.

There is only one on-call internist for more than 400 patients and two cardiologists versus 22 in Victoria. It does not have a catheterization lab, while there are only two in Victoria and patients with heart disease cannot get access to the care they need.

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“We see every day … patients who don’t get the care they need when they need it,” Coupland said.

“We don’t see things getting better.”

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Critics have been calling for a new patient tower at Nanaimo’s hospital, which would function as both a diagnostic and treatment centre and would increase the total bed capacity to 600.

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Dr. David Forrest, head of infectious disease and critical care at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, said on Wednesday that the hospital was originally built in 1963 with a capacity of 200 beds.

“It’s now expanded to 345 acute care beds and is the seventh busiest hospital in B.C.,” Forrest said.

“Nanaimo is the second-fastest growing city in British Columbia and the fifth-fastest growing city in Canada.”

Forrest said it is no surprise that the hospital regularly runs at about 120 per cent capacity, with closets and storage areas used for patient care.

“Or patients are crowded in spaces converted as Nightingale wards. Those are open rooms reminiscent of wards from the earliest 20th century,” Forrest added.

“These care spaces have no privacy, and thus no dignity for patients, our sickest patients in the community. There are no barriers to prevent the spread of disease or even washrooms or windows and there’s no access to basic life-saving equipment such as oxygen or suction.”

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In a statement, Island Health said it recognizes the need to continue to invest in and improve health-care services for all regions, including Nanaimo.

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The organization said recent investments include a new cancer care centre at Nanaimo Regional Hospital, $41.6 million for a brand-new, state-of-the-art intensive care unit at NRGH, $18.5 million for a new high-acuity unit at NRGH, $3.1 million for a third endoscopy unit at NRGH and $5 million for a second MRI suite at NRGH.

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