Christina Sprague’s six-year-old son Lucas had not been back to Cariboo Memorial Hospital since he was born.
So when she took him to the hospital a few times between April 25 to May 2, she felt she wasn’t prepared for some of the changes in place at the emergency room.
“We were very confused and distraught that nobody was addressing us or giving us clarification. The nurses weren’t helpful and it was very awkward,” Sprague says of her experiences. “I think the hospital needs a better relationship and better communication with the community.”
Things that led to her confusion were whether she should have called an ambulance or not, whether arriving by ambulance gives patients priority, how to rate the severity of her son’s illness on a scale of one to five as required when filling out forms, why there was a plate glass window between patients and the nursing staff, the open hours of the cafeteria, and whether the nursing staff is supposed to attend to patients in the waiting room.
“Some things have changed around the ER that may make your visit more uncomfortable,” Sprague says. “There’s a plate glass window with a mouth hole between patients and the nurse. My mouth did not match up with the height of the hole. Awkward.”
Lucas had been sick for four days with the flu and hadn’t been able to keep any food down so Sprague decided to take him to the hospital.
She brought him there because she felt he was in need of nutrients and perhaps an IV.
“There was no clarification for me to move on from the fact that I had him at the hospital. Now what? Should I even be here? Should I have called an ambulance?” Sprague wondered.
Drawing from her own experiences, Sprague says the community needs to be informed and confident when entering the ER.
“Humans are emotional creatures. Therefore, when parents have done all they can do at home for their child, it would be nice if parents could take their children to a safe, trusting and welcoming hospital.”
Deb Runge, Interior Health’s manager of acute services for the Cariboo, says the emergency room is consistently busy in Williams Lake, but adds anyone should feel comfortable to go there.
“If you feel that you need treatment and you’re not sure what you should do, you have a couple of options.
You could dial Health Link at 811 and that’s a provincial initiative with a nurse on call to talk to people or you can just come in. We would never discourage anyone, but there are options.”
When people arrive at the ER, their first point of contact is the triage nurse, who begins care with an assessment, including asking specific questions such as the severity of pain or what is different that caused them to come to the hospital.
“If you are of a lower scale, you may wait longer than someone that’s more critical,” Runge explains, adding it’s the triage nurse who gives a score and then checks up on the patient in the waiting room to make sure their score hasn’t changed.
An ambulance is justified if a person has an urgent need for transport or requires assistance during transport.
If people arrive by ambulance, they are assessed by a nurse, and will be prioritized for treatment depending on severity, which could mean they could wait to see a physician behind someone in the patient waiting room.
The cafeteria is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday to Friday, and there are vending machines in the waiting room near reception.
Patients, however, waiting to be seen by a physician are encouraged not to eat or drink until they have been examined.
As for the plate glass window with the mouth hole, IH says it’s there to control the entrance to the emergency department to ensure safety for patients and staff and protect the patients’ right to confidentiality.
The triage desk is located behind a sliding door and a nurse is stationed behind a glass window — the first point of contact is made through a speaking hole in the window.
“The nurse will invite the patient into the enclosed area for further discussion and information sharing during the triage process.”
While Interior Health cannot comment on specific complaints, there is a patient care quality office, 1-877-442-2001, where concerns are documented and investigations launched.
“I encourage people to call the line if they have concerns,” Runge says.