Elderly Vancouver woman’s hospital discharge with broken bones shocks family

‘Something is falling apart. I don’t blame the staff,’ says Sandra Robinson, whose 85-year-old mother was discharged with broken bones in her face. ‘I think they are trying to cope with a system that’s being crushed’

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After 85-year-old old Vancouver resident Joyce Robinson fell down at 2 a.m. Thursday, breaking her nose, fracturing an orbital bone and tearing an eye duct, she was rushed to emergency.

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It was not unusual for her to visit the ER at Vancouver General Hospital. According to her daughter, she has fallen many times over the past couple of years because of her age and after suffering a minor stroke.

But it was unusual not to be admitted overnight for observation.

Her daughter Sandra Robinson, who is a professor at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, was shocked her mom was discharged from hospital in just a gown after staff had thrown away her clothes because they were covered in blood and with no pain medication for the excruciating fractured orbital bone.

She said her mother typically is monitored overnight in hospital because of her age and medical history. They usually need to run tests to find out why she fell. But this time she was sent home, despite these injuries being the worst she had suffered from a fall yet.

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Robinson wants to know if the threshold for admitting a senior overnight has changed given the current health-care staffing shortage.

My mom has been through ER many, many times. They usually keep her for several days to assess. This is truly a first, she said.

Something is falling apart. I don’t blame the staff. I think they are trying to cope with a system that’s being crushed.

In a written response, Vancouver Coastal Health said it has “the capacity and required level of clinical and support staff” for providing care to all patients.

“Vancouver Coastal Health does not discharge patients due to a lack of beds — patients are only discharged under the advice of a doctor and are provided a discharge plan,” the statement says.

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Before Joyce Robinson, who lives in her own apartment at a small assisted living complex in Vancouver, could be released she needed to have her eye stitched up by a senior ophthalmologist. However, her daughter said the eye centre was in another building three blocks away.

But she had no clothes, no shoes. And they asked us to walk her there, said Robinson. Her brother finally managed to get hospital staff to bring her in a wheelchair. According to Robinson, her mother was told not to scratch her face and was discharged in her hospital gown.

Joyce Robinson, 85, suffered a broken nose, fractured orbital bone and torn eye duct from a fall. Her daughter says she was discharged from Vancouver General Hospital in her robe with no pain medication.
Joyce Robinson, 85, suffered a broken nose, fractured orbital bone and torn eye duct from a fall. Her daughter says she was discharged from Vancouver General Hospital in her robe with no pain medication. Photo by Sandra Robinson

It wasn’t until the family got her home that they realized she had not been been given any pain medication and just a prescription for an antibiotic.

I know there is no space and I know there are other people in terrible situations at the hospital. But it is just so sad, she said.

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We see lots of evidence that the health-care system has been under stress for a long time. And I think it has reached a tipping point. It has to have if they are no longer admitting and monitoring seniors after they fall to just saying, ‘Hey, you can just go home.’ Why has it changed?

Premier John Horgan has said B.C.’s health care system is “teetering” given staffing shortages that have led to the closure of at least three emergency rooms.

Horgan has repeatedly pointed to increased federal funding as the key to shoring up health care. Provinces and territories have been asking Ottawa to increase its share of health-care funding from 22 per cent to 35 per cent, which for B.C. would mean an increase of $3.9 billion a year.

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Last month, reporters Lori Culbert and Dan Fumano wrote a story about how a woman died at Lions Gate Hospital after two days stuck in a waiting room, a tragic sign of the growing staff shortage in B.C.’s overcrowded emergency rooms.

— with a file from Katie De Rosa

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