An 82-year-old Grand Forks man with a broken hip was left in intense pain for 59 hours as he waited for an ambulance to transport him to Trail for surgery, during the recent bout of snow.
Marion Duralia said her father Frank Duralia was originally admitted to the Boundary District Hospital in Grand Forks on Sunday morning (Nov. 6) and was scheduled for surgery the same day at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital – but the surgery had to be cancelled when it became clear there was no ambulance able to take him there.
“Three or four times we were given different times. It never transpired,” Duralia told Black Press Media.
Monday was the same. Numerous times Duralia and her father were told he was the next to go, and every time an ambulance failed to show.
In preparation for each potential surgery, Frank was forced to stop eating and drinking. Duralia said her father was given an IV and pain medication, but that he was in “excruciating pain” anytime he moved a little.
And Frank wasn’t the only one enduring pain while waiting for an ambulance, Duralia said.
“I could see other people also going through the same experience going through emergency, and I’m sure there are thousands of other cases out there.”
Duralia said she spoke with other family members in the hospital and discovered some of them were choosing to drive their sick or injured loved ones to Trail themselves. The trip takes around an hour and 15 minutes in good conditions, but can take far longer when the mountain pass is covered in snow or ice as it was Sunday and Monday.
“Several took that risk, endangering their lives and the lives of their loved ones.”
The poor driving conditions were the reason an ambulance wasn’t able to transport Frank on Monday, BC Emergency Health Services told Black Press Media.
Private services not allowed to make inter-hospital transfers in Kootenay Boundary
Other family members at the Grand Forks hospital were looking into a private medical transport service, Duralia found. She said she couldn’t drive her father herself because she didn’t have room for him to safely lay flat with his broken hip, but that she did consider paying for a private service.
In the Kootenay Boundary region of Interior Health, however, private medical transport services are not allowed to make inter-hospital transfers – a service available in other parts of the province.
Interior Health told Black Press Media it is not considering changing its ambulance model at this time, but that a private service would not have been appropriate for Frank’s injury, regardless. Private services in other parts of the province are generally only used for low-risk transfers.
Frank was finally taken by an ambulance to Trail around noon Tuesday, where he later underwent surgery. Duralia said she doesn’t blame the health-care workers involved, who she said were clearly doing their best, but that the quality of care her father received was “unacceptable.”
“We’re in a crisis. People are falling through the cracks.”
Where Duralia does place the blame is on the B.C. government and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“I hold him responsible and accountable for this mess we’re in.”
Dix spent Monday and Tuesday in meeting with other provincial and territorial health ministers and the federal government in Vancouver. The ministers had hoped to reach an agreement on an increase in health-care funding, but the feds withdrew from talks Tuesday afternoon without anything getting settled on. Dix has not responded to a request for comment as of publication.
Loss of in-patient care means transfers as far as four hours away
Newly sworn-in Grand Forks mayor Everett Baker and Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell said they have both been in touch with Duralia and are working with Interior Health and the province to come up with solutions.
Baker said he met with Dix at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September and invited him to visit Grand Forks to see its struggles first hand. The rural city has been without in-patient care since March due to a staffing shortage and has no maternity ward, leaving many patients with no other option but to traverse a mountain pass themselves or wait for an ambulance to take them to another hospital.
Baker said the community usually has three ambulances, but if one of them has to make the trek to Trail and back, for instance, it could be gone for three hours. Since they lost their in-patient services, Baker said patients have been transferred as far as Kelowna (2.5 hours one way) or Kamloops (over four hours one way) depending on which hospital has a bed free. That means one of three ambulances could be occupied for up to eight hours for just one patient.
If driving conditions are considered too dangerous, ambulances won’t make the trip at all.
“The highways are not safe,” Baker said.
He said he has no immediate solutions, but that he is determined to make his voice heard and ensure Grand Forks receives better care.
“We need a solution now.”