Nurses “inundated with work”, and overflowing toilets

We continue with our posts from Stella as she struggles to protect her father Charlie who “lives”, as so many elderly people now do, in an “extended care wing” of a British Columbia hospital.

Stella Writes…

My father remains on the senior’s ward of a hospital here in BC, despite my efforts to get him out.  Yesterday I found him still without his bottom teeth.  Two weeks ago staff told me they were taken away because he has a canker sore in his mouth.  I couldn’t see the sore then and I couldn’t see any sore yesterday.  Apparently they are rinsing his mouth with salt water twice a day or at least that’s what I am told.

I went to look for a nurse to see if Dad could have his teeth back.

I waited 20 minutes for the new Nurse Leader to finish training someone on the computer, but apparently my timing wasn’t good.  She told me she was “inundated with work” and couldn’t help me.  I counted 12 health care workers standing around the front desk, most of them more than 60 feet from any actual patients.

His former Nurse Leader retired last summer and the newest Nurse started a while ago (mid November).  I needed just a few minutes to ask questions:  Have you cut him back on coffee and citrus juice as these can irritate cankers?  Who is the nurse who looks after this mouth rinsing task and may I speak to him or her?  How can he eat with no bottom teeth?  Do you let him have his teeth at meal time?

But my questions just annoyed the Nurse Leader who was “multi-tasking” at her computer.  When she started to roll her eyes, I said, ‘thank you’ and backed away.  This isn’t really the kind of care I wanted for Dad, although he tells me not to worry, he is fine.  He’s too doped up to really know what’s going on and, sadly, I am grateful for that.

If he doesn’t have his teeth next time I visit, I will sign him off the ward and take him to Emergency to see if they can help.  If not, I guess I can take him to a walk-in health clinic. You would have thought a hospital full of nurses, doctors and care-aides should be able to manage a canker sore, but I guess not.

Overflowing toilets, but a brand-spanking new gym!

My friend called me last night from her hospital room.  She had a paralyzing stroke some years ago but receives zero physical rehabilitation support from the health system.  Recently the toilet had flooded in the room she shares with 3 other women.  The staff closed the bathroom door and told them not to use it.

Four days later, the door is still closed and my friend must now wait for a care aid to bring her a commode.  She has asked to be transferred to another room, but that is unlikely.  Perhaps they will fix the toilet today.  Perhaps they will put her in diapers instead.

A few months ago, the local politicians were all abuzz about the expansion to the exercise room on her floor of the hospital.  Big smiles all around, lots of ribbon cutting and congratulations on a job well done.

It costs $160,000 and doubled the space from 200 square feet to about 400 square feet so $800 a square foot.  This doesn’t include furnishings or equipment since they already had that. If you want to build luxury residential accommodation, you might spend about $200 / square foot.

I asked my friend if she is able to use the facility but no, the hospital didn’t hire any physiotherapists to staff it. One worker comes in from time to time but she will not help my friend do her walking exercises.

This physiotherapist is fond of sit/stand, sit/stand, a trick my friend learned one week after her stroke, a trick they could easily do in a hallway without the fancy exercise room. The exercise room is nearly always empty, just as it was before the expansion.

All my friend needs is someone to move her wheelchair from one end of the hand rail to the other so she can walk toward it.  She is very stable but needs a lot of practice. She’s been asking for three years but she doesn’t get any help.

Her friends, like myself, do what we can to help her walk but why couldn’t someone on staff help her?  It takes less than 10 minutes, helps build up her strength and reduces her need for pain medication. Care aides are “not allowed” to help her, and physiotherapists don’t get hired.

Next time you hear about the high cost of running health care systems, think about the money that’s spent on useless capital projects.

It isn’t the big things that make my paralyzed friend’s life meaningful.  It’s the little things, like 10 minutes attention from a physiotherapist or toilets that function.  Or… are we being crazy here, why not a health care system that actually cares?

Regards, Stella

UPDATE: May 09, 2013

I’m happy to report that my friend’s situation has improved quite a bit. She has been transferred to her own room with a functioning toilet and a fabulous garden view.

There are also new physiotherapists working, at least 3 part time.

I do believe the front line workders are doing their best with the long hours and reduced staff levels. It was kind of them to put her in her own room when one came available. They made sure she has proper transfer poles in place so she can be as independent as possible.

Sometimes you get lucky!  Stella



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  1. NURSES ‘INUNDATED’ WITH WORK… Why won’t these ribbon cutting politicians help this stroke patient??? No working toilet, no physio! Is this the third world? Nurses rolling their eyes at requests to return an old man’s teeth. This is abuse and neglect, in a hospital yet. What’s it going to take to stop this?? What’s happening to people who work in these places, e verybody says staff are oveworked but I don’t buy that. I’ve sat in on family council meetings in my Mom’s nursing home, and they’re run by the home’s administration staff, families are told what to do, what they can and can’t talk about. Families are scared. It’s like a prison camp.

    Comment by Jimbo — March 10, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  2. NURSES ‘INUNDATED’ WITH WORK… I am tired of hearing that there are good people out there in health care. If there are these “good people” they would would make sure that everyone else did their jobs. I want to thank Stella for her comment and also Jimbo. I also want to thank CBC Fifth Estate for its Report Card on BC Hospitals. Vancouver General Hospital got a D.

    Comment by Audrey Jane — April 11, 2013 @ 11:12 am

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