10/04/2013 09:24 EDT | Updated 12/04/2013 05:12 EST

Hospital discharge taxi rides 'not unusual'

Two B.C. health authorities say taxi rides are a reasonable way to discharge people from hospital, after CBC News highlighted two cases of seniors being sent home from the ER in cabs.

Vivian Fitzpatrick, 90, who is legally blind, was sent home alone in a taxi in the middle of the night from Delta Hospital, dressed in pyjamas and slippers. The Fraser Health Authority has since apologized.

In a similar case, Hannah Chidley, 76, was also sent home alone in a taxi — without her son's knowledge — from Mount St. Joseph's Hospital. Providence Health Care has since reviewed its procedures.

- Read more about Vivian Fitzpatrick's case

- Read more about Hannah Chidley's case

However, both the Fraser Health Authority and Providence Health Care freely admit that taxi rides home are not unusual and can be a good option.

Miriam Stewart with Providence Health Care says the decision about when and how to discharge patients is made carefully, on a case-by-case basis.

"It's fairly frequent. A lot of people do live alone and a lot of people prefer to go home in a taxi rather than wake up people, especially in the evening," she said.

"So if the patient is deemed competent, and it seems safe that the patient go home in a taxi, that could be a very reasonable way to be discharged from the emergency ward."

Tasleem Juma with Fraser Health Authority said it is important to work with the patient.

"If, for example, patients are in the ER and they don't have someone to take them home, we would work with them to say, 'Who can I call for you?'" she said.

"If for whatever reason that individual can't come, we can make alternative arrangements for them. So in some instances, it could be sending them home by taxi."

Meanwhile, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake was asked on Friday how he felt about the way Fitzpatrick's case was handled.

"This is not the way we expect patients to be treated. There will be changes made in terms of protocol at that hospital, although from my understanding this was a mistake on the part of the staff involved," he said.

Statistics from the B.C. Health Ministry appear to show incidents like these are not widespread. 

Last year there were approximately two million visits to B.C. emergency rooms and only 172 complaints relating to discharge procedures.