Couple with pneumonia left waiting for 6 hours in cold ambulance bay at Winnipeg hospital

Couple with pneumonia left waiting for 6 hours in cold ambulance bay at Winnipeg hospital

A Winnipeg couple who were hospitalized with pneumonia earlier this week say they had to wait six hours in the cold of a hospital ambulance.

Alison Cox, 55, accompanied her husband, 66, to the emergency room at Concordia Hospital on Tuesday afternoon after he had been very ill with pneumonia for days. He was having pains breathing, was tired and had a fever and chills, Cox said.

She also started getting symptoms of pneumonia, she said.

The pair were initially taken in by a triage nurse with hesitation, Cox said.

“She said, ‘Well, why do you come here? Everyone has viruses. Everyone has the flu,'” Cox said.

“My husband is very, very ill. That’s why we’re here.”

Only after the nurse received medical records from the couple’s family doctor did she continue with the triage.

The nurse told Cox they needed to be isolated.

According to a spokesman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, it’s standard practice for patients with symptoms of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which are currently burdening hospitals across Canada.

But Cox and her husband were taken to the ambulance bay and told to wait there until there was room inside.

“An ambulance parked where we were sitting. And I think … we have pneumonia … and now the exhaust fumes are on our faces,” said Cox.

A woman sits wrapped in hospital blankets.  She is wearing a blue medical face mask.
Alison Cox, pictured, says she was only given blankets three hours into her six-hour wait in the ambulance bay. (Submitted by Alison Cox)

But as they continued to wait in the ambulance bay, Cox began recording her experience on her phone and posting it on social media, thinking no one would believe what had happened.

After three hours, the couple asked for a blanket from paramedics, who had just parked an ambulance on the bay.

Four hours elapsed before anyone came by to check her vitals – which is usually done at sighting and admission, and then monitored.

Finally, after six hours, the couple was taken to an exam room and saw a doctor.

Cox believes someone contacted the hospital after seeing her social media posts because she overheard staff talking about being ordered to bring her inside.

“Someone told someone we need to get out of this ambulance bay,” she said.

“Desperate Times”: Emergency Doctor

Shay-Lee Sweeney says she had a similar experience with her 80-year-old grandmother at the same hospital in the fall.

In October, Sweeney brought her ailing grandmother, who was getting worse, to Concordia.

She was quickly triaged but was told she needed to be isolated because she had COVID-19 symptoms.

Sweeney thought they were being taken to a separate room inside the hospital, but to her disbelief, they were taken to the ambulance bay.

“I asked [the nurse] if she meant it… and she [said] that it was her,” Sweeney recalled.

They waited about five hours in the bay, which was hot and muggy with little to no airflow.

At one point, a paramedic who arrived in an ambulance used a medical glove to cover the top garage door sensor so it stayed open and let in fresh air.

Five people sit in an ambulance bay that looks like the inside of a garage.
Shay-Lee Sweeney and her 80-year-old grandmother waited in the same ambulance bay for five hours in October. It was hot, humid, and lacked airflow, Sweeney says. (Submitted by Shay-Lee Sweeney)

“The paramedic got out to transfer her patient and she said, ‘I can’t believe they still have people here,'” Sweeney said.

Sweeney says the paramedic told her that sometimes in winter they had to park the ambulance outside the bay and drive stretchers to another door in the snow so they could avoid symptomatic people who may have been infected with COVID-19 in the bay.

Sweeney figured if the hospital could test her grandma for COVID-19 and it came back negative, they could be transferred.

But the hospital staff refused.

Eventually, a doctor came to the bay to check on her grandmother.

“He said, ‘Oh wow, being out here is a first for me. Desperate times, I guess.’”

She asked the doctor if they could be taken inside. He went to inquire with the head nurse, but no one followed him.

A few more hours passed before her grandma was taken to a room, diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home.

Both Sweeney and Cox say no one should wait in an ambulance bay while awaiting medical attention, especially people who are more vulnerable.

“The care that was given to us was non-existent,” Cox said.

Ambulance bays used “on rare occasions”: WRHA

A spokesman for the Winnipeg regional health authority said patient privacy laws prevent the authority from discussing specific cases, but said: “On rare occasions when all other isolation rooms are full, patients have had to wait in the ambulance bay for short periods of time. ‘ until another seat becomes available.

This “has been standard practice across Canada at many sites dealing with larger patient numbers,” the spokesperson said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority doesn’t track how often this happens, but estimates it’s about two or three times a week.

“We recognize that the ambulance bay is not an ideal location,” the statement said.

The spokesman also said initiatives are underway to help with “patient flow issues” at Concordia, including increasing staff and establishing a designated waiting room area for patients who cannot immediately isolate.

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