Saskatchewan

Internal memos expose dangerous levels of hallway medicine, overcrowding in Regina hospitals

Health-care workers in Regina hospitals have been treating patients in hallways because of bed and staffing shortages, but the fire department says this practice is a dangerous fire code violation that’s putting everyone in the hospitals at risk.

Health authority says action plan for capacity issues will be released on Thursday

An aerial drone shot showing a the snowy hospital grounds.
The Regina General Hospital on Jan. 7, 2022. (Cory Herperger/CBC News)

Health-care workers in Regina hospitals have been treating people in hallways because of bed shortages, but the fire department says this is a dangerous code violation that's putting patients and staff at risk. 

On Wednesday, provincial Opposition health critic Vicki Mowat called attention to this issue by sharing an internal document shared by a whistleblower.

The document included an email from a Saskatchewan Health Authority employee and a memo from the fire inspector.

"We've been talking for some time about hallway medicine and how it is completely unacceptable that we're treating people in beds, in hallways, in waiting rooms, because there simply isn't space in the emergency room and in the rest of the hospital," Mowat said.

"[The internal document] really highlighted the failures of this government and the fact that we need to make changes now."

The email obtained by the NDP was written by emergency medical services director Glen Perchie to other staff.

"I know there is a lot of frustration with the current state of offloads in Regina. Please know that your EMS leadership team shares your frustration," he wrote.

Perchie added that EMS and ER department leadership have "escalated these concerns, as the issues driving the over-capacity are complex and require systemic action beyond the influence of our program areas."

WATCH | Internal memos expose dangerous levels of hallway medicine, overcrowding in Regina hospitals: 

Internal memos expose dangerous levels of hallway medicine, overcrowding in Regina hospitals

4 months ago
Duration 2:21
Health-care workers in Regina hospitals have been treating patients in hallways because of bed and staffing shortages, but the fire department says this practice is a dangerous fire code violation that’s putting everyone in the hospitals at risk.

A warning from the fire department

He also wrote that SHA has received a "shot across the bow" from the Regina Fire Inspector, because placing patients and equipment in hallways is in contravention of the national fire code.

In a memo, a Regina fire inspector said this has been an ongoing issue at both hospitals in emergency rooms and connecting corridors.

"We can appreciate the ongoing challenges your organization is facing with staff shortages, influenza season, and limited space issues within your facilities, however, we cannot look the other way when there are serious fire code violations that is putting your patients and staff at risk within these vulnerable facilities."

He wrote that it is the responsibility of the SHA to address this matter immediately.

"In a fire you need to be able to evacuate and move people quickly and that just starts to congest," said Regina fire chief Layne Jackson in response to questions about the memo. 

Jackson said prevention is an important pillar of the fire department, so if it spots concerning issues it will call for them to be addressed.

In Perchie's email to staff, he asked them to maintain the smallest footprint possible while maintaining patient safety.

"Our goal is to find some middle ground with the Fire Department, while we search for a better space and perhaps better solution overall. Failing this, there could be a directive to keep patients in the ambulance until the ER can accept transfer of care."

Systemic issues

The hallway matter is a symptom of a system-wide failure, according to Mowat, the NDP health critic.

Mowat said the government has failed to keep up with the province's growing population and that there aren't enough beds. She said there are patients in hospital beds who who could be discharged to a community facility, but those beds aren't available.

On the flip-side, Mowat said there are 200,000 people in Saskatchewan who can't access a family doctor and that is also contributing to the problem.

"If you put off your issues, if you don't get that preventative care, then you end up in the emergency room."

Health-care workers are being put in impossible situations where they are working in unsafe conditions, as well as being overworked and understaffed — meaning they can't provide the quality of care they've been trained to provide, she said. 

SHA says action plan coming soon

CBC requested an interview with the provincial minister of health, but a ministry spokesperson declined the request and deferred to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which also did not grant an interview.

However, an SHA spokesperson said action to address capacity issues was coming.

"Tomorrow [Thursday], the Saskatchewan Health Authority will release the Regina Capacity Pressure Action Plan, our plan to alleviate and address the immediate pressures facing hospital capacity in Regina, while introducing long-term measures to meet the current and future needs of Saskatchewan residents accessing health care services in the city," said Doug Dahl, media relations manager, in a statement.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

with files from Alex Quon

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