Health Fitness

Woman says she had to wait for ER to open as husband had seizure

A Prince Rupert woman says emergency room closures plaguing the British Columbia port city forced her to make an “impossible” choice when her husband had a severe epileptic seizure early Monday morning.

Tish Losier says she awoke around 6 a.m. to her husband, Joe Budniksy, shaking in bed and called 911. Budnisky was diagnosed with epilepsy last year and takes medication for it daily.

But when the ambulance arrived, Losier says paramedics advised her it would be faster to wait for the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital’s emergency department to open at 8 a.m. rather than make the 140-kilometre drive to the nearest open hospital in Terrace. 

She agreed, and they drove to the Prince Rupert hospital to wait.

“It was absolutely terrifying. He couldn’t get the medicine that he needed,” Losier told CBC News in an interview on Tuesday.

“The seizures were completely at their own free will at that point. There’s nothing that anybody could do but let him have these seizures and wait until the ER opened up.”

B.C. Emergency Health Services declined to comment on the specific case, citing privacy, but confirmed receiving a call matching Losier’s description shortly after 6 a.m.

Paramedics “provided care to and stayed with the patient until they were transferred to the care of Prince Rupert Hospital’s emergency department,” spokesperson Bowen Osoko wrote in an email Wednesday.

Losier and Budnisky’s experience comes a week after Northern Health confirmed a shortage of doctors has forced Prince Rupert’s only hospital to close its emergency department overnight several times this month alone. 

And after what she described as a “horrifying” experience at the crowded hospital when Budnisky finally received care, Losier is questioning whether she made the right call.

“I wish with my whole soul that we had gone to Terrace this morning,” she wrote in a social media post from the hospital late Monday night. 

Prince Rupert Regional Hospital pictured on March 13. The hospital’s emergency department has had a series of overnight closures due to a shortage of staff. (Seth Forward/The Northern View)

Hospital ‘completely swamped’

Losier says when the emergency room opened, staff gave her husband pain medication and X-rays, and sent him home shortly after.

“He is usually admitted, at least overnight, when he has episodes like this,” said Losier. “But a nurse told me that they didn’t have enough beds and they got completely swamped as soon as the ER opened up.”

The 26-bed hospital is often over-capacity and caring for 30 patients at a time, according to Julia Pemberton, Northern Health’s northwest senior operations officer.

When Losier got home and began to help Budnisky from their car, she says he had another seizure and fell onto a concrete slab, splitting open his head and knocking out a tooth.

When she called 911, she says the operator told her there wasn’t an ambulance available.

“He’s bleeding all over the place,” Losier recalled. “I’m begging the 911 operator to send me some kind of help … and I started yelling as loud as I could for help.”

Eventually two neighbours came to help Losier lift Budnisky into their car and she drove him back to the hospital, where she says he received 15 stitches in his head, a CT scan and a large dose of seizure medication.

“And they told us again they didn’t have enough beds or staff to admit him,” Losier said.

A man lying on a bench of hospital seats.
Losier says she is terrified she won’t be able to get adequate care for her husband, pictured here in the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital waiting room in June 2022. (Tish Losier/Facebook)

She again returned to the hospital with Budnisky later the same night when he started to vomit from what doctors said was a concussion, Losier said.

She said Budnisky is now resting at home but that she’s “terrified” of a repeat experience.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if this kind of thing happens again,” she said.

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Pemberton says Losier’s experience has deeply affected her, and that Northern Health is working as fast as it can to hire the health care workers needed for the small but busy port city.

“My heart broke for that family and I’m so sorry that that was their experience. It sounds extremely difficult,” said Pemberton on Tuesday, noting she could not speak to specific care decisions.

“But we make every effort to make sure that the resources are available for our patients when they need them.”

As many as eight doctors in Prince Rupert are rumoured to be relocating or retiring, a figure Pemberton couldn’t confirm.

But she says three more doctors are coming this year.

Last month, nearly half of Prince Rupert’s 87 emergency department shifts in February were covered by temporary locum doctors, according to Pemberton.

“But when we’ve exhausted all the doctors and we still can’t find a physician, we’re left with the last resort, which no one is happy with, but it’s to close the ER,” she said.

Local elected officials have called the emergency department staffing situation a “crisis,” with Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond calling health-care recruitment “mission critical” for the city, First Nations and local industry. 

Pond says he has contacted Health Minister Adrian Dix directly about the situation. CBC News has contacted Dix’s office for comment.

Losier, who says her own family doctor is retiring at the end of May, added that the health authority and the province need to do more to bolster health care in the “under-served” community.

“All we can do from here is hope that we don’t need those services when they’re not available,” said Losier. “And, unfortunately, I did need those services and they weren’t available.”

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