Nova Scotia

Victoria General's 'nightmare' conditions leaves Edmonton woman shocked

An Edmonton woman who braved transplant surgery at Halifax's Victoria General hospital in November recalls being shocked by conditions at the facility that led her to write hospital management out of frustration.

Shelley Vaughan had 4-day stay at VG in November as part of living donor paired exchange program

Shelley Vaughan and her fiancé Harley Wilkes during a vacation in Mexico. In November, she donated a kidney at Halifax's Victoria General hospital so he could get one in Alberta. (Shelley Vaughan/Facebook)

When Shelley Vaughan flew from Edmonton to Halifax in November to donate one of her kidneys to a stranger, she felt nervous about having an operation in a strange city, far away from family, friends and her sick fiancé.

Her apprehension was heightened by the fact her fiancé, Harley Wilkes, was having a stranger's kidney transplanted into his body around the same time back in Edmonton. 

The two operations were part of a living donor paired exchange program by Canadian Blood Services.

Although both operations went well, instead of feeling relieved and happy, Vaughan said she's still bitter about her "nightmare" stay at the Victoria General hospital.

Victoria General's 'nightmare' conditions

7 years ago
Duration 2:04
Shelley Vaughan had 4-day stay at VG in Halifax as part of living donor paired exchange program

'Something smeared all over'

During her four-day stay, Vaughan said her toilet wasn't cleaned, her bed sheets weren't changed and she wasn't offered a fresh hospital gown. Her sink was never cleaned. Her room was checked during a bed bug infestation, she said.

"The floors were very dirty and the sides of my bed, as well as my nightstand had something smeared all over."

In a lengthy email to the hospital describing her stay, she also complained about the state of her surroundings.

"The curtains were hanging halfway off the curtain rod on the window," she wrote. "The bed divider curtains for each of the four beds all had large holes in them about the size of an apple and they were all badly frayed at the bottoms.

"The drywall on the walls were so badly torn everywhere and the paint was peeling all over."

Vaughan described a blanket she was given as "something that looked and felt like a piece of canvas."

'Quit trying to fix up this building'

She said she couldn't believe it when a man with a dog asked to enter her room so the dog could sniff around for bed bugs during her second day of convalescence.

She told a friend who had travelled from Alberta to keep her company to keep visits short because she was worried about the infestation in the room just two doors down.

Vaughan took this picture of her IV stand, which was very rusty and had a broken wheel. (Shelley Vaughan)

Vaughan was also appalled by the fact the water was unsafe to drink.

"Legionella bacteria in the water pipes?" she said. "Quit trying to fix up this building and tear it down."

She was so disheartened by conditions at the hospital, she said she considered not going ahead with the surgery, but in the end decided that wouldn't be fair to the Nova Scotian waiting for her kidney.

"I cannot tell you how happy and relieved I was to be discharged on the 30th," she wrote in her complaint letter.

"When the plane took off (on Dec. 3) I began to cry. I was so thrilled to be going home."

What was to be a wonderful experience for me by giving the gift of life to someone turned out to be a nightmare I truly wish I could forget."

'Demolish that entire place'

Almost two months later, Vaughan's voice broke recalling her brief stay to CBC News. 

"I just kept thinking, 'We're in Canada. Why is there not better hospital facilities?'"

She offered this simple piece of advice to health officials in Nova Scotia.

"They need to build a new building and demolish that entire place. No one should have to encounter that. It was just so depressing and filthy. It's something you shouldn't have to go through."

She felt just as bad for hospital staff.

"I felt really bad for the people who have to work there or the future patients there," she said. "I'm so glad that I'm home,  that's all I can say, I'm glad I'm home."

In an email reply to her original complaint dated Jan. 5, patient relations representative Denice Klavano offered an unequivocal apology.

"Let me apologize for your experience at the Victoria General. Certainly, much of what you describe of the physical environment is true," she wrote. "There is no excuse for the unit not being clean and that is unacceptable."

Karen Mumford, senior director at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, wrote in a reply to CBC's requests for comment the experience "is not our standard of care."

"Many of the issues that she had outlined in her letter to us would not be our expectation of what would happen in our facility," Mumford said. 


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.


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