Penticton emergency room given failing grade

Staffing levels in PRH’s emergency department were rated “fair” by its doctors, but the facility was rated as a “fail” on the capacity side

Doctors have given a failing grade to the emergency department at Penticton Regional Hospital, although a new ambulatory care tower could help bring up its mark.

Emergency room doctors have delivered grades for 19 B.C. hospitals to kick off a campaign to rally public support for a $10-million plan to address overcrowding and physicians shortages in their departments.

Staffing levels in PRH’s emergency department were rated “fair” by its doctors, but the facility was rated as a “fail” on the capacity side.

Dr. Diana Fort said her department has 13 beds for emergency patients and another 10 in an overflow area for those who’ve been admitted to hospital but are still waiting for a proper bed on a ward.

Since the hospital routinely operates at 109 per cent of capacity, she continued, the overflow patients take up space while they wait for a room, leaving more recent arrivals in hallways.

“It’s not unusual to come into work in the morning and find that there are nine or 11 beds in the emergency (room) taken up by patients with nowhere to go,” Fort said. “Most patients need to have a physical examination that requires them to get partially undressed and those things just can’t be done in a dignified way in a hallway.”

Fort, who’s worked at PRH for five years, said the proposed new $300-million ambulatory care tower would relieve some of the pressure on her department, despite its conceptual design not calling for new beds or an expansion of the ER.

A bigger ambulatory care department would free up some of her overflow beds that are used by day surgery patients, she explained, and a cast clinic at the back of the ER would be relocated to the new tower and its space reclaimed.

Local doctors are still waiting for the B.C. government to agree to funding its $160-million share of the four-storey tower. And it appears doctors here and elsewhere will be also be waiting awhile for the government to commit to funding their $10-million ER improvement plan, which calls in part for more staffing and initiatives to divert patients from hospitals to other health service providers.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs said in a statement that the government recognizes the efforts of ER doctors and wants to work with them to improve care.

“However, we also must live within our financial means. There is no new money available outside of our Physicians Master Agreement.”

That four-year agreement, signed with the B.C. Medical Association in 2012, set out the fee structures for all doctors in the province and included $90 million in new funding “to address priorities” identified by the BCMA and its members, Jabs said.

He also noted ministry officials have met with ER doctors and the BCMA and are willing to consider a proposal, but nothing has come forward yet.

Some of the new funding in the master agreement has, however, been earmarked to attract doctors to the province’s rural areas.

On Wednesday, the B.C. government and the BCMA announced a plan to spend up to $2 million to provide $100,000 bonuses to doctors who relocate to 17 rural communities. The plan calls for the hiring of two general practitioners in Princeton.

Doctors who enter the program will receive $50,000 up front and the balance after one year. They’ll have to repay the entire amount if they don’t complete their full three-year terms.