SAINT JOHN, N.B. — The daughter of an 88-year-old woman who spent part of Thursday in a supply room at an overcrowded New Brunswick hospital says she's alarmed by the shortages of space and staff in the province's health facilities.
Karen Totten photographed her mother Irene MacNeill of Barnesville, N.B., lying in a supply room at the Saint John Regional Hospital, with a bed sheet hung up to give her some privacy and wearing dark glasses to help her rest in an area where lights couldn't be dimmed. The image shows the woman surrounded by boxes and medical supplies.
Totten, a 65-year-old resident of Upham, N.B., says she published the disturbing images because she's become alarmed by the staff shortages, the long wait time for her mother to receive a nursing home bed, and the lack of space in the hospital.
"Our system is really broken. How can (Premier Blaine) Higgs be reporting a surplus? If he has a surplus ... get us some nurses and doctors and fix this mess that we knew was going to happen years ago," she said, referring to the Progressive Conservative government's recently announced $135.5 million projected budget surplus for 2022-23.
She says she found her mother lying in the supply area on Thursday after MacNeill was moved out of her room because it was needed by a patient who required access to oxygen supplies.
Totten says she and her father, John MacNeill, departed the hospital in tears after observing Irene MacNeill's circumstances.
"I had my mask on. I was crying. And one nurse brought me the number for the patient advocate, and another nurse asked if I was OK, and I replied, 'No, I'm not OK,'" she said.
Totten says she learned after her departure that MacNeill had been moved to her own room, but wonders what would have happened had she not arrived to visit.
A spokesperson from the Horizon Health authority was not immediately available for comment.
The Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights issued a report earlier this week based on data compiled from regional nursing home waiting lists. It found there are currently 833 people awaiting a spot in a New Brunswick nursing home, and of those 483 are occupying a hospital bed.
Totten said her mother, who has macular degeneration in her eyes, has been in hospital for close to 90 days awaiting a nursing home spot since she fell in the family home and injured herself.
Rebecca Howland, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development, said in an email it's important to recall that some patients waiting in hospitals "require a high level of care, which can only be accessible in facilities such as nursing homes."
"The department has added staff to hospital teams to help with the discharge process. They help find alternate solutions, when available, including interim placements and safe home support options for individuals waiting for placement in long term care," she wrote.
She added that the nursing home waiting list "changes frequently," with approximately 150 new residents accessing nursing home beds in New Brunswick every month.
However, Totten says the pace of change is too slow.
"I hope this stirs things up so people realize, we have to do something now," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2022
— Story by Michael Tutton in Halifax.
The Canadian Press