10/07/2013 04:14 EDT | Updated 12/07/2013 05:12 EST

Hospital Discharge System Defended By B.C. Health Minister

Health Minister Terry Lake defended B.C.'s hospital discharge and patient care quality review systems, after CBC News highlighted cases of seniors being sent home from the ER in taxis.

Vivian Fitzpatrick, 90, who is legally blind, was sent home alone in a cab 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 Saint Joseph's Hospital. Providence Health Care has since reviewed its procedures.

The CBC's The Early Edition also heard from one listener, who said his 94-year-old mother had been discharged three times from a Vancouver ER, despite having a poor diagnosis.

Last week, the Fraser Health Authority and Providence Health Care freely admitted that taxi rides home are not unusual and could be a good option.

Hospital discharge taxi rides 'not unusual'

But B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix called it a "systemic" problem caused by a lack of funding and called for further action.

'Not the norm'

Speaking to Rick Cluff on Monday, the health minister defended the system, labelling the NDP's claims as "fear-mongering."

"In this situation, the emergency room was quite quiet. There wasn't a lack of space where they needed to get the patients home," said Lake.

"We can't condone a vulnerable patient being sent home without a proper transition plan in place, and it is not the norm to have that happen.

"But there are incidents where things don't come together quite as well as they should… This is a system made up of many, many human beings and sometimes failures occur."

Improvement needed

Lake said the number of complaints was small compared with the number of visits to emergency rooms throughout the year, but conceded it was still too many and they always needed to improve. 

"When we have over two million visits to emergency departments each year, we're going to have some that come with problems, and that's why we have the Patient Care Quality Officers so patients can express their concerns."

He also said the province had spent a lot money over the last few years trying to ease the flow through emergency departments, setting target wait times and increasing the number of family doctors available.

But the minister admitted there are no provincial standards which govern the discharge of patients.

"It is up to the discretion of the doctors and nurses. They are the experts and, with the patients, determine if it is appropriate to send them home or not."

Common sense

Lake said Fraser Health is investigating Fitzpatrick's case to ensure it does not happen again.

"Common sense would tell us that [the nurse] should have contacted the patient's daughter to make sure this arrangement was OK."

It was previously thought the total number of discharge-related complaints received by all B.C. health authorities in the 2012/13 fiscal year was 172.

However, this did not include those complaints made to Fraser Health, which brings the total to 262 discharge-related complaints overall.

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