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'Mommy, I want to go home': B.C. family leaves two ERs in one night after waiting hours for care

"This is the first time in my life when I felt that I could see it crumbling," says a Burnaby mom.

A Burnaby mom is worried about B.C.'s health-care system after not being able to get care for her two-year-old at a local emergency room on Tuesday night, a situation that's being seen across the province and country.

Rachel Thexton's youngest daughter had been fighting a fever for six days, a nasty cough and congestion.

Her older son was also diagnosed with pneumonia last week. 

"It takes a lot for me to take my kids to the ER. I don't like to leverage the system when I don't need to. I know that the health-care workers are overworked and that there are a lot of needs out there," Thexton told the NOW.

"It [fever] had been becoming resilient to Advil and Tylenol and going higher and higher.

"So, I recognized the same patterns that I was seeing in my son who was diagnosed at BC Children's Hospital with pneumonia. That's what drove me to make my decision [to take her to the hospital]." 

Before going to the emergency room, she had tried to contact her family doctor and pediatrician to get her daughter care. 

Thexton first took her daughter to BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver, but when they arrived, the triage line was out the door. 

"It would have taken us hours just to register at triage, so we said, 'You know what, let's go to Burnaby and give it a try.' And we did that." 

She said once they arrived at Burnaby Hospital, they were quickly triaged and registered. 

A nurse told Thexton it would likely be "quite a wait" but because her daughter was an infant and there were concerns she was quite dehydrated, it hopefully wouldn't be extremely long. 

She says they waited in the waiting room for "quite some time" but were then taken back to a room. Thexton was hopeful a doctor would be coming to see her daughter soon after being moved.

But the wait continued, she said.

"And at one point, I very kindly and patiently asked how long they thought it might be... There hadn't been anyone: a nurse, a doctor. No one had come in to see her, take her temperature, check her or anything like that. 

"One of the nurses communicated that they would do so. They did not." 

When it was roughly 4:15 in the morning, six hours from first arriving, Thexton said she decided to take her daughter home. 

"I defend our health care constantly because I think it's fantastic for the most part," she added. 

"This is the first time in my life when I felt that I could see it crumbling. And it really scared me and disappointed me."

Thexton added her family doctor did reach out to her after hearing of her experience and arranged for tests and an appointment for her daughter. 

According to edwaittimes.ca, the wait time at BC Children's Hospital was four hours as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday with the expected length of stay at almost eight hours. 

On Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the increase in respiratory illnesses has put pressure on B.C.'s hospitals, leading to long wait times in emergency departments across the province.

Through September and October, B.C. had an average of about 6,700 emergency department visits, but that daily average has increased to 6,795 visits through November.

This increase in hospitalizations is largely being driven by respiratory illnesses in young people, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, but ICU care and emergency visits have increased across all ages.

Despite long wait times at some hospitals, Henry urged people to still attend hospitals if they require care, where they'll be triaged based on need.

Thexton said her advice to health officials would be to go to an emergency room to see how dire the situation actually is. 

"My advice would be to check out an ER room at Children's Hospital and to see how many children are in those rooms, hacking, with spiking fevers and in desperate need of care. 

"Usually, just antibiotic and rest, but they need to get it from a doctor. So we need to change the way in which we're managing this because it's kind of become a bit of a perfect storm."

When asked for comment by the NOW, Fraser Health said it was sorry to hear of Thexton's experience at Burnaby Hospital, adding the health authority has seen higher than normal volumes of patients due to respiratory illnesses. 

"Fraser Health's priority is the health, well-being and safety of all patients," an email statement said. "Every hospital visit is important to us, regardless of whether we are serving higher or lower volumes of patients."

The statement noted there are "well-established structures in place" to monitor and respond to ebbs and flows in patient volumes.

"In addition, we regularly connect with BC Children’s Hospital and other health authorities as they are an important partners in supporting care for pediatric patients," the spokesperson said.

While emergency departments are "vital" in life-threatening situations, "they are not set up to care for routine illnesses," the statement said.

"And they do not work on a first-come, first-served basis. If your care needs are not urgent, consider other health-care options, which may be faster, more convenient and more appropriate."

The health authority says a call to the family doctor should be made first.

"If your family doctor is not available or you do not have one, or if you have an injury or illness that requires timely medical attention, but is not an emergency, visit an Urgent and Primary Care Centre," the spokesperson said.

- with files from Nicholas Johansen, Castanet

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