“I think this is disgraceful,” said Joe Young, 66.
“What if she had taken another heart attack? What would the lady taxi driver do? She got no paramedics there.”
Joe’s mother, Stella Freda Young, who goes by Freda, has a clogged heart valve, had triple bypass surgery and has had heart attacks before. Five years ago, Joe, who is legally blind with diabetes and high blood pressure, built a home with an in-law suite to take care of her.
After supper on Oct. 1, Freda started feeling sick. Around 6 p.m., she started throwing up, so Joe called an ambulance to their New Waterford home.
He and his mother were taken to Glace Bay Hospital because New Waterford Consolidated Hospital’s emergency department is closed evenings.
At about 6:30 p.m., Freda was admitted to the Glace Bay emergency department.
At 9 p.m. they saw a doctor. Tests were done then and again at midnight. Both showed Freda hadn’t had a heart attack and the health care team discharged her at 4 a.m.
While waiting for a taxi, Freda, in a wheelchair, started having chest and arm pain.
“She got right shaky and felt right squeamish,” Joe said.
He used the phone outside the triage to get a nurse, but didn’t get an answer. He called twice.
Seeing a cleaning lady, Joe asked her to go get someone. Four nurses and a doctor came. They looked Freda over in the waiting room.
“They told us the hospital was closing and if you are from New Waterford or (outside of Glace Bay) you had to either go home or go to the regional (hospital),” said Joe.
“You’d think with the chest pains and that they would have taken her back in and checked her. She even said, ‘I guess I’m going to die in a wheelchair.’”
It was now roughly 4:30 a.m.
On the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) website a statement was posted on Sept. 27 advising the Glace Bay ER would be closed from 6 a.m. on Oct. 2 to 7 a.m. on Oct. 4 because no physicians were available to work.
Joe chose to take his mom to the regional hospital. He said staff told him they had to do paperwork and inform the regional hospital Freda was coming.
“Then at about 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m., they said you either have to go home or we can send you to the regional by taxi,” said Joe.
“I said, ‘well what about an ambulance.’ And they said, ‘There’s none available now.’”
A written statement from Emergency Health Services (EHS) spokesperson, Jean Spicer, said, “EHS Operations can confirm a paramedic unit was available for a hospital to hospital transfer within the CBRM on Oct. 2 between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.”
It is unclear if EHS had been called or if they informed hospital staff of a long wait for service.
Brett MacDougall, director of integrated health emergency program of care for the NSHA Eastern Zone and site lead at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital said it is not common to do hospital transfers by taxi.
“We don’t use taxis. A patient’s given the option if they want to take a taxi as a form of transportation. We don’t have, like, a taxi service where we say ok we’re going to use this taxi service to transport patients regularly,” he said.
MacDougall explained sometimes hospitals give patients taxi chits if they need help getting home after being discharged or help getting to a referral or other health related appointment deemed necessary by staff.
“We have taxi chits that we give to patients sometimes if they are unable to get to a certain destination. And it’s only rare that that happens… when they are discharged,” he said.
After arriving at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital ER, Joe said a doctor immediately saw his mother. Blood work confirmed Freda had a heart attack “earlier.” She was admitted and put in a private room.
Joe doesn’t understand why his mother wasn’t brought back into the ER in Glace Bay or given a bed. He was not told there were no beds available.
“The protocol would be if a patient requires to be admitted to a facility, they become admitted and then we would transfer them to their home hospital provided they have a family physician to go to at that home site, if a bed was available,” MacDougall said.
MacDougall also said if a patient is discharged from an ER, then goes into medical distress in the waiting room and is assessed to need further examination or admittance, it is protocol to do so, unless there is not a “most responsible physician at that site, to provide care.”
Joe said on Oct. 3 he received a voice message from the doctor they saw at the Glace Bay ER “apologizing about a half-dozen times.” He was too tired to respond.
“I mean, ok, we live in Cape Breton. New Waterford’s closed most of the time. Glace Bay’s been closed a lot. All that’s left open is the regional. They’re overworked downstairs,” he said.
“I just don’t think we should have been taken by taxi.”