Tim Hortons triage: B.C. patients treated in coffee shop

An unexpected influx of patients to a B.C. hospital forced administrators to open a temporary emergency ward at an on-site Tim Hortons coffee shop earlier this week.

The Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., was overwhelmed late Monday night when more than 190 patients were admitted to its ER department.

David Plug of the Fraser Health Authority said the sudden build-up of patients resulted from several simultaneous trauma emergencies, as well as a high number of flu patients and general emergency traffic.

"Due to concerns around congestion, the emergency department and physicians looked at the coffee shop seating area, which is immediately adjacent to the emergency department," Plug said.

A decision was made to turn the Tim Hortons, which had been closed for the evening, into a temporary part of the ER department.

Six beds were moved into the coffee shop, when the Tim Hortons became part of the working hospital from late Monday night into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The Fraser Health Authority said that up to five patients were treated in the seating area during this time period.

Plug said that the Tim Hortons was "cleaned before and after and there were no communicable disease concerns."

He said that the seating area was more private for patients who would otherwise have been sitting in closets or hallways in the hospital.

Sheldon Glazer, an emergency room physician at the hospital, said overcrowding has been a problem at the hospital for years. But he defended the treatment that doctors provided patients.

"The ironic thing is though that the patients who were moved into the Tim Hortons area probably received better care than the patients who we usually see in the hallways of our emergency room," Glazer told CTV British Columbia.

Despite the level of care afforded to the patients, some hospital visitors, like Shelly Fisher, were shocked about the impromptu decision to treat patients inside the hospital's coffee and doughnut shop.

Fisher's mother received blood work and a heart monitoring test in the converted Tim Hortons.

Fisher expressed concerns that the coffee shop was not the most hygienic location for medical treatment.

"She got an ambulance ride to Timmy's," Fisher said in an interview with radio station News 1130.

"I don't think that's something you can say every day. My God, how low is our health care system going to go?"

Colin Hansen, the provincial health minister, stressed the situation was unusual, but said the hospital made the right decision.

"It does happen from time to time that emergency rooms are under tremendous stress because of the number of patients presenting themselves on that day," Hansen said.

Hansen said the overcrowding was less severe than it was in the past, including when he was the Liberal opposition's health critic 10 years ago.

"They had all the ambulances lined up outside waiting to unload passengers," he said. "Today we have protocols in place where the patients are brought inside, they're cared for, they get the attention of medical staff."

Debra McPherson, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union, said overcrowding is a chronic problem that is forcing hospitals to leave patients in hallways and closets while they are waiting for treatment.

"This is insane," McPherson said. "We can't provide privacy and dignity when they're having tests performed in these types of areas. We cannot assure them that emergency equipment is available, such as oxygen and suction. It's appalling care conditions."

In Ottawa, New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody NDP MP Fin Donnelly told the House of Commons that the incident was proof that the government needed to be more attuned to the health care problems across the country.

"This government needs to order a double-double on the double and wake up and smell the health care crisis in this country," Donnelly said Tuesday.

In response, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the Conservative government had boosted health care by 33 per cent, something the NDP voted against.

With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber

© CTV.ca News Staff