‘ Bed blocker’ patients, families stuck in frustrating holding pattern
CALGARY — Jerry Orpe has not been outdoors in four months and remains confined to an orthopedic unit at a Calgary hospital, but he doesn’t need knee surgery or a hip replacement like his fellow patients — he has Alzheimer’s.
Orpe, a 77- year- old retired business owner and a one- time prospect for the Chicago Blackhawks, has been waiting for a long- term care bed, and there is no end in sight.
He’s among the patients health officials have called bed blockers — he’s occupying a badly needed spot at South Health Campus, increasing wait times elsewhere in the system — but he’s stuck there. And his family feels helpless to change it.
Concerned he could run away due to his mental illness, nursing staff and his family have not taken him outside for walks, so he has remained in the orthopedic unit since he was admitted to hospital on June 13. For exercise, loved ones take him on laps around the unit.
“Our family goes to visit him every day, because if he wanders off the unit, they just call security,” said Jill Rowland, Orpe’s daughter.
Hospitals across Alberta are operating at overcapacity — South Health Campus was at 97 to 102 per cent capacity this week — as patients like Orpe occupy much- needed beds. He is one of an estimated 700 seniors waiting for placement into continuing care in the province.
Dr. Paul Parks, emergency medicine spokesman for the Alberta Medical Association, warned in an opinion piece for Postmedia News this week that overcrowded hospitals have placed the province’s health system on the verge of “catastrophic collapse” and that one more stressor could push it “over the edge.”
“These are not ‘ bed blockers,’ but are human beings with real continuing care needs that our province has not planned for and cannot meet,” Parks wrote.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party would immediately spend $ 200 million to address overcrowding in hospitals. The plan would set aside $ 100 million for frontline care, $ 50 million for home care and $ 50 million to reopen long- term care beds. Smith released her plan on Wednesday in an Edmonton riding where Wildrose candidate Tim Grover hopes to beat unelected Health Minister Stephen Mandel in a byelection. The release also came ahead of a pending announcement by Mandel, who is expected to “shortly” reveal a plan to create long- term care beds to help deal with overcrowding at hospitals.
Vickie Kaminski, president and chief executive of Alberta Health Services, said part of her strategy to deal with overcrowding will attempt to prevent patients from arriving at emergency departments, perhaps by dispatching paramedics to care for the frail and elderly at home. Kaminski said health officials must develop a “fulsome plan” to deal with the problems and that she’d have more to share publicly about the strategy in the coming months.