British Columbia

Victoria family says they were asked to help with patient care as hospital faces staff shortages

A lack of staff at a Victoria hospital prompted nurses to seek help from the family of a patient this week, according to the patient's daughter.

Helen Bell said she received a call from hospital nurses to help feed her mom

Helen Bell said she got a call from hospital nurses on Monday morning asking for help to feed her elderly mother who has been at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital for the past three months. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

A lack of staff at a Victoria hospital prompted nurses to seek help from the family of a patient this week, according to the patient's daughter.

Helen Bell said she was shocked when she received a phone call from hospital nurses on Monday morning, asking for help taking care of her elderly mother because they were too short staffed.

"They phoned and said that they didn't have enough staff and in order to feed her, would we please rally as a family and take turns coming in and feeding her breakfast, lunch and supper," Bell said on CBC's On the Island.

Bell said her 87-year-old mother has been in acute care at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital for the past three months and cannot use her hands right now to feed herself, so she relies on hospital staff to do that.

She said Monday's phone call is evidence that the system is stretched too thin.

"It shows the level of short staff-ness, when they are calling patient's families to come in," Bell said. "She's been in hospital for three months and for this last month, she got one shower."

Bell said she doesn't fault the staff as the nurse did the most responsible thing by calling.

"We want the hospital to be honest with us and say, yes, they're having a tough time and then we could work together," she said.

Hospital in 'crisis mode'

B.C. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen said he wasn't surprised to hear Bell's story about helping her mom, as the health-care system is under "crisis mode" with thousands of health-care workers away sick.

According to the province's health minister, Adrian Dix, more than 17,000 health-care staff around B.C. called in sick between Jan. 24 and Jan. 30, 3,400 of whom were in the Island Health region.

"We've definitely heard from health-care workers who have said that they are caring for far more patients than they are comfortable with and that they are feeling very much overwhelmed by the effect that Omicron has had on the health-care system," Olsen told CBC News.

He said the Green Party has been urging the province for distribution of more rapid tests, better masks and improved ventilation in an effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

"It's been very challenging to get the provincial government and the health authorities to embrace the fact that we have aerosol transmission of this virus," Olsen said.

When the health minister was asked about Bell's situation during Tuesday's COVID-19 media briefing, Dix did not address the situation specifically but said families "frequently" play an "important role" in patient care.

"What happens and what happens frequently, and this is before the pandemic, and now, is that visitors frequently help with care either because they want to or because the patient may ask them to or because the care staff think that's a good idea," Dix said.

He said he recognizes the staffing challenges faced by front-line workers in hospital but no one was being denied food because of a lack of staff.

"There's also no question that everyone is going to be fed, but sometimes people get asked to come in and help, especially when they're providing care."

The ministry was not immediately able to say how often these types of requests are being made due to staffing shortages.

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