Opinion Column


With chest pain, shortness of breath, and a heart condition, I was moved out of VGH Emergency Room due to 'lack of space'

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake. (Carmine Marinelli/Vancouver 24 hours File Photo)

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake. (Carmine Marinelli/Vancouver 24 hours File Photo)

“Emergency rooms are overflowing in BC. We’ve all seen the pictures.”

-BC Liberal Party platform, 2001

The chest pain was bad.

I was short of breath, with a diagnosed heart condition, lying in bed in a hospital gown after an electrocardiogram test. Then I was asked to leave Vancouver General Hospital’s Emergency Room because they were out of space.

“I’m really sorry but you have to go to the lobby waiting room – we have no space to treat other patients,” said an apologetic nurse. “Your clothes are in this bag and you can take your blanket.”

I’d already been diagnosed with pericarditis – inflammation of the heart’s lining – and symptoms were back.

So while pericarditis is rarely fatal, I was still stunned – as were six other patients who also were asked to go to the lobby in hospital gowns. Fortunately, I returned in 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, several patients recently died waiting for care in emergency rooms across BC – an unacceptable and tragic situation.

"He took his last breath in my arms," Janice Joneja wrote in a heartbreaking letter to BC Liberal Health Minister Terry Lake last month after her husband died of a heart attack in Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital’s waiting room before being seen by a physician.

And, ironically, he was Dr. Rajindar Joneja – a neurologist who had served since 1968 in the hospital where he suddenly died.

"No one, regardless of their position, should pass from this life in such traumatic, public and obviously avoidable circumstances," Janice said.

For Jennifer Whiteside, Hospital Employees’ Union Secretary-Business Manager, the ER crisis is largely due to lack of provincial funding.

“Our per capita spending on health care in BC used to be number two and now we’re number eight. One of the results is overburdened emergency rooms,” Whiteside told me Sunday.

Vancouver Coast Health Authority spokesperson Anne Marie D’Angelo agrees that moving patients in hospital gowns into the lobby is wrong.

“Certainly it’s never appropriate for anyone to be put in a position of lacking dignity,” D’Angelo told me Friday.

After hearing about ER deaths I definitely count my blessings.

But with 16 years in office, the BC Liberal government that promised better health care has no excuses for overcrowded emergency rooms where some patients sadly die before even being treated.


Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist.

Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com or Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman