Brent Granby: Doctors have finally spoken out about condition of St. Paul's Hospital
After years of silence, doctors finally speak up about the difficult working conditions at St. Paul’s Hospital.
I have frequently heard that St. Paul’s Hospital has a high commitment to patient care from all of the staff despite the challenges of a decrepit and crumbling building. With the urgent need for a comprehensive renewal since 2002, it is curious that very little has been publicly heard from the hospital staff on the subject. Especially given that staff at other hospitals often send open letters to the premier and stage media events. (Remember the Tim Hortons emergency-room story at Royal Columbian Hospital?).
For some reason, St. Paul’s Hospital staff have been persistently silent on the widely known poor conditions where they work.
Now, thanks to the diligent work of Vancouver–West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who filed a freedom-of-information request to Providence Health Care, the public has a very shocking picture of the inner workings of St. Paul’s Hospital through two letters from physicians who work there to the CEO of Providence Health Care, Dianne Doyle.
In these two letters written by Dr. Carole Richford and Dr. Stephen R. Wiseman, a barrage of serious issues with the conditions at St. Paul’s Hospital are chronicled from mice, pigeons, cockroaches, broken elevators, high absentee rates, patient care in hallways, risk of infection, and the risk of cataclysmic failure of the building in an earthquake to both vulnerable patients and staff. Quite a litany of concerns were poignantly stated.
Here are some excerpts from Dr. Richford's correspondence:
• “…I now find myself completely demoralized with my physical work environment.”
• “….building was ‘deplorable’ at 70 years old. I believe the mice and pigeons are also geriatric!”
• “…sick time were higher than last year”
• “…being publicly blamed by VPD for a psychopath stabbing an elderly man.”
• “…this hospital has come to the point where NOTHING more can be improved until we have a new building."
Here are excerpts from Dr. Wiseman's correspondence:
• “You cannot provide good care regarding infection control, for example, with mice and cockroaches running all over patient care areas like I have seen for years now"
• “…we cannot come close to properly addressing the scourge delirium in this hospital”
• “Placing multiple patients to a room, to be kept up by the acutely ill, or snoring, or agitated by others’ family visits, is not appropriate care for those at risk of becoming delirious”
• “I won’t even get started about the patients placed in stretchers in hallways of hospital inpatient units.”
• “…if there is the slightest little burp of an earthquake, the building I spend most of my week in will fall to the ground in seconds…."
• “The West End/downtown of Vancouver is the most densely populated area of Canada…and it is situated on what is essentially a peninsula….Yet, we have had the incredible foresight to construct the only Emergency Department in this entire region on the first floor of the Burrard Building-so when there is an earthquake, it will be completely flattened and all the doctors and nurses working there killed. The bridges will be out, and the downtown area of the city will be an utter disaster zone."
In an article in the Province by Elaine O’Connor entitled, “Condition Critical: aging hospital at high risk in earthquake”, CEO Dianne Doyle of St. Paul’s Hospital is quoted as saying, “We are on life support.” She compared the hospital to a terminally ill patient in the intensive-care unit.
This is the legacy of the B.C. Liberal government after being in power for more than a decade. Doctors and senior members of the hospital management team are frustrated coping with the inaction on the hospital renewal and piecemeal efforts when a comprehensive response is critically required.
Brent Granby is a former COPE park candidate and a longtime resident of the West End. A longer version of this article originally appeared on his blog.