Woman harassed in hospital asks AHS to reconsider coed rooms

A Beaumont woman is calling on the Alberta government to reconsider the practice of placing male and female patients in the same hospital room after she was harassed at an Edmonton hospital.

'He was screaming obscenities at me … saying he wouldn't tolerate a female in his room'

“I think women should have the option of being in a women-only ward,” Caroline van Rooyen said. “I felt very vulnerable.” (Nathan Gross/CBC)

A Beaumont, Alta., woman is calling on the provincial government to reconsider the practice of placing male and female patients in the same hospital room after she was harassed at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.  

Caroline van Rooyen said she was admitted to the hospital at around 11 p.m. on May 25 after collapsing from a possible stroke while walking in her neighborhood.

Van Rooyen was put into a room with four beds in the Robbins Pavilion, part of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

"I managed to fall asleep because I was exhausted and at about 2 a.m. I was startled awake because a man had ripped open the privacy curtain," she said.

"He was screaming obscenities at me … saying he wouldn't tolerate a female in his room and he had to get rid of me."

Van Rooyen said her "survival instinct" kicked in and she pressed the buzzer for the nurse. She said that made the man more angry and he called for another male patient in the room to "help get her out."

Eventually a nurse came to take the man out of the hospital room, van Rooyen said.

She asked the nurse to be moved to another room, but was told there weren't any available.

Van Rooyen was assigned a coed room in the Robbins Pavilion (right) at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"I felt so traumatized ... I was shaking," she said. "This is not a safe place to be."

A manager was called and offered van Rooyen a private room in a different wing for the rest of the night.

Van Rooyen stayed there with her husband and daughter until the next day, where she was moved into a room with another woman.

"I stayed there until about midnight on Sunday night and I heard screaming and yelling coming from that same room that I had been in.

"They had brought another woman up from emergency and put her in that room … the man leading the way and his colleague were giving her the same treatment, yelling and screaming ... at her."

Van Rooyen said she re-experienced the trauma of the previous night and decided to go home and return the next morning. She was able to go home later Monday after further tests.

Several days later, van Rooyen submitted a complaint through the patient feedback form on the Alberta Health Services website.

She said a representative from the Royal Alexandra Hospital called her and said officials would talk about the use of coed rooms sometime in the future.

"She had other priorities that were more important," van Rooyen said.

Several days after she was discharged from the hospital, van Rooyen submitted a complaint via the patient feedback form on the Alberta Health Services website. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Van Rooyen also sent a letter to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro but has yet to receive a response.

"I think women should have the option of being in a women-only ward," she said. 

"I can see someone sitting down and saying 'This works financially or this works in terms of access to beds,' but I don't think anyone sat down and said, 'Does this help women's health?'"

'Still having nightmares'

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Alberta Health Services said it apologizes for van Rooyen's experience at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

"AHS understands a patient's need for privacy, safety and dignity, and that some patients may not feel comfortable in a mixed-gender room," said spokesperson Kerry Williamson.

"Because of that, we do all we can to ensure members of the opposite sex are not put in the same hospital room."

Williamson said the hospital's priority is ensuring patients get the care they need quickly, which sometimes requires placing patients in coed rooms.

When patients are concerned about their hospital accommodations, it is addressed when possible, he said.

"Acute care beds are in high demand and it is not an option to leave beds open if patients need them," Williamson said.

"The concept of coed rooms isn't new. It already happens in emergency, day surgery, day medicine, observation units, CCU, and ICU. It is commonplace nationwide."

Van Rooyen has now been home from the hospital for two weeks and said her health has improved, though she is still undergoing tests and blood work. A stroke has been ruled out.

She said she still thinks about the incident and hopes changes are made.

"I'm still having nightmares."


Emily Rendell-Watson is an Edmonton-based journalist who shares stories for web, radio and television. She joined CBC Edmonton in 2017. You can reach her at emily.rendell-watson@cbc.ca.


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