A doctor in the pediatric unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is concerned that hospital overcrowding is compromising care for sick children.
Dr. Jane Pegg said a year ago, staff in the pediatric ward came into work one day to find the treatment room in the middle of the ward filled with adult patients.
While staff were told it was a temporary measure, adult patients continue to be housed in the unit the majority of the time.
"We are a year later now and essentially that room has been chronically filled with adult patients," said Pegg. "It no longer feels like a contained, safe space for children."
A letter signed by Pegg and four other doctors connected with the unit was sent to the media last week.
Pegg said the decision to go public was made after an adult patient was placed in the ward two weeks ago that staff felt could potentially be a safety risk to younger patients. Then on Monday, an adult on the ward was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, she added.
"It's very rare that kids come in with it," she said. "It does kill people."
The separate treatment room, which is now used as a four-bed room for adults, is an important part of current standards of care, said Pegg.
Children do best if they are staying in a room that they feel safe in, where they know that someone's not going to come in and poke them with a needle or do other painful things to them, she said.
She said the health authority recognized the need for such a room and built another one next to the unit, but it only holds one patient at a time and does not solve the problem of the influx of adults in the middle of the children's ward.
While the unit is not always full of children, Pegg said physicians want the space reserved for kids.
"We haven't even hit influenza season," she said. "This is going to get worse. We need more beds somewhere. There's no concrete plan to solve the overcapacity situation at the hospital."
Val Wilson, Vancouver Island Health Authority spokeswoman, said a four-bed patient room in the pediatric unit is used for overflow adult patients when needed.
"We know it's not ideal, but we put patients in the room when we need the space," she said.
The room is the last to be used in an overcapacity situation – all units are expected to take overflow patients when the hospital is over capacity – and the first area cleared and patients are screened for infectious diseases before being admitted to the ward.
The health authority is working on various strategies to try to address its overcapacity, added Wilson.
One of the hospital's biggest challenges is the number of patients in hospital waiting for a spot in residential care facilities or other community care services, she said, and the health authority has been working with these services and facilities to address the capacity issues.