The shocking theft of jewelry from two elderly patients at Vancouver General Hospital this year has sparked calls for tighter security.


Agnes Ulmer, 91, says the three rings that were stolen from her meant a lot, especially the wedding band her late husband gave her. ((Global-TV) )

"We'd like to see some sort of restricted visiting time because at the moment, visiting hours are anytime of the day or night,'' said British Columbia Nurses union spokeswoman Judy McGrath.

Calls for tougher hospital security were prompted by the brazen theft of three rings from VGH patient Agnes Ulmer on Saturday. The 91-year-old was recovering from a leg amputation when a woman removed her rings and told her they were being taken for cleaning.

The incident is just one of the thefts that occur each year at the seven hospitals overseen by Vancouver Coastal Health, which says each of its hospitals is the target of at least one theft a year.

As only one quarter of all thefts are reported by nursing staff to security, the problem is probably much greater, Vancouver Coastal Health has confirmed.

In January, for example, rings were taken from the fingers of another VGH patient, 94-year-old Miriam Moorhead, who died just days later.

The nurses union said round-the-clock visitor access is partly to blame because it means its members are being forced into a security role at night, that involves challenging after-hours visitors.

The union said this adds to the workload of members and adds to the potential dangers they face.

While only the emergency door remains open after 10 p.m., the private firm handling security at VGH typically has only four guards on duty throughout the entire hospital, the union said.

"It highlights the fact that we are vulnerable, the patients and the staff are vulnerable in that building,'' said McGrath.

In an interview with CBC News, Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco said she was unaware that VGH had 24-hour visiting hours.

However, Zanocco said that isn't likely to change because Vancouver Coastal Health aims to provide patient-centric care as opposed to restricting visitor-time.