Cancer patient's husband describes 'impossible situation' at Red Deer Regional

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
October 27, 2017 - 3:41pm Updated: October 27, 2017 - 7:33pm

A Red Deer man says something needs to be done after he and his wife faced a nearly all-night wait at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Emergency Room.

Jim Bicigo’s wife Karen Gustafson was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer and has been undergoing chemo treatments for the last three weeks. Monday evening, a blood clot caused by the chemo forced her to take an ambulance to the hospital.

“She arrived about 9 or 9:30 p.m. The place was packed, absolutely packed. We sat in the back hallway and waited and waited,” Bicigo recalls. “As a cancer patient, she’s supposed to be isolated, she’s supposed to have a mask and those who deal with her are supposed to have a mask. We did ask a nurse for a mask and she said yes, that’s the way it’s supposed to be and went off about her duties. I don’t think she was being flip, I think she just couldn’t deal with it and there was nowhere to put her that would be isolated.”

A mask never arrived. That’s when Bicigo says one of the paramedics in the room noted the wait time in the ER, just after 2 a.m., was eight hours and 15 minutes.



This prompted Bicigo to snap a picture of the wait time screen in the lobby and take his concerns all the way to the top – to Premier Rachel Notley and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

 “I said 'Look, I’ve unfortunately had to wait at this ER a number of times in the last year. I’ve emailed you every time and you haven’t answered. So I invite you to come and sit in this waiting room,'” he says. “I still have not heard from either of them.”

Bicigo paused to point out hospital staff are doing the best they can given the circumstances, calling it an impossible situation.

“We were told by the doctor that of the 30 beds in the ER, 23 of them were people who were inpatients. I heard later that there were people waiting to be admitted to the hospital, but that left seven beds to deal with emergencies,” he continues. “Somebody’s going to be seriously ill and not be able to be treated and we’re going to have a real tragedy. We have to pay attention to this problem.”

Bicigo has since heard back from an AHS Patient Advocate after twice contacting them to address the wait time issue. To this point, however, nothing’s been done.

Bicigo says those in power need to face the facts.

“Our elected officials need to, number one, admit that there’s a problem publicly and then they need to set about fixing it,” he says. “That could take the form of more beds at Red Deer Hospital, it could take the form of more urgent care facilities in central Alberta. It could take lots of forms.”

Part of the problem is the matter of equal access and an expectation of better healthcare in this country, Bicigo adds.

“In Canada, we kind of think about equal access to healthcare for everybody and I don’t think this is equal access. I think other areas of the province have probably better access to healthcare than the people in central Alberta,” he says.

In the end, Bicigo's wife's blood clot cleared up on its own, but it was still six hours before she saw a doctor.

Allan Sinclair, AHS Executive Director of Red Deer, stopped short of calling Bicigo's situation unacceptable because of privacy regulations around commenting about specific patient experiences.

However, Sinclair did say the posted wait times are there only to offer patients a ballpark range of how long they may be waiting. He added Red Deer is fortunate to have walk-in clinics with extended hours.

"I was just down there and the wait times are just barely over an hour right now, but sometimes patients come in and it looks like it’s a one hour wait and then an ambulance might come through with two or three patients after you’ve arrived," he says. "We always endeavour to make sure that the sickest patients are being seen first.”

Sinclair feels a 'zone approach" is needed going forward for the Central Zone, adding more interaction with physicians' offices and PCNs, and improved access to homecare services are ways to help congestion at Red Deer Regional Hospital.

Speaking at a healthcare rally outside Red Deer’s Memorial Centre, Dr. Keith Wolstenholme said the hospital is currently short 114 beds and three operating rooms. 

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