10/08/2013 05:16 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Hospital Officials Defend Treatment Of Delta Senior

The head of the Fraser Health Authority defended the Delta hospital's decision to send home a 90-year-old blind woman in the middle of the night in a cab with little more than a sheet and slippers to keep her warm.

Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Nigel Murray said he'll address specifics of the Vivian Fitzpatrick case within 24 hours, but cautioned the public not to expect major changes.

- Read more about the incident

Speaking at the official opening of the new emergency room at Surrey Memorial Hospital, , Murray said there are no official patient discharge protocols, provincially, or in Fraser Health. Instead the authority relies on staff expertise.

"It's called good clinical practice and common sense," said Murray.

"Common sense includes good clinical judgment, and some patients do better at home, some people stay in hospital, and that's what our clinical experts are trained to do."

Premier Christy Clark, who was also at the ER opening, was also asked about the incident, and said B.C. is doing well, but there is still work to do.

Officials say across B.C. there were 262 complaints filed last year about hospital discharges.

Patient suggested taxi

Last week the hospital apologized to Fitzpatrick and her family for the incident.

But earlier Delta Hospital medical staff association president Dr. Robert Shaw also defended how Fitzpatrick was treated.

"If you cannot see well, being in the emergency room can be quite hazardous if you don't know your way around. You could trip. You could fall down, break a hip," said Shaw.

"They thought they were doing what was right for the patient."

"Prior to discharge the nurse made sure she could walk safely and she asked the patient where she wanted to go and how she wanted to get home."

"And she said, 'Well call a taxi,' at which point they called her home and talked to the caregiver and told her she was coming home and then they escorted her to the taxi."      

Shaw said staff called the caregiver again, once Fitzpatrick was in the taxi, to say she was on the way.

He noted the hospital staff was distraught when they heard the story in the news, and said the emergency room sees up to a hundred patients per day with only 20 available beds.

Fitzpatrick's case was one of several cases relating to hospitals inappropriately discharging seniors in recent weeks.

The latest case to come to light is that of Margaret Hansen, 91, whose son Tom says she went to the Lions Gate Hospital's ER in North Vancouver repeatedly with complaints related to sudden immobility.

Tom says it was not until he threatened legal action on their third visit that she was admitted. Hansen says his mother is now "totally immobile" and he says the way seniors are treated in B.C.'s health care system is a "disgrace."

- Read more about Margaret Hansen's case

- Read about the health minister's response and more similar cases

New emergency room officially opens

Meanwhile the new emergency department at Surrey Memorial Hospital was officially opened by Premier Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake on Tuesday morning.

The new facility, which is the size of three NHL ice rinks, is now the second-largest emergency department in Canada.

The provincial government has committed $492 million to the project, with an expected contribution of $20 million from the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation and Child Health BC.

The centre has a separate pediatric emergency department — one of only two in B.C. — with its own entrance, private treatment rooms, a family area and a care team on site around the clock.

According to Murray, Surrey Memorial Hospital ER was originally built in 1991 to serve 44,000 patient visits a year. Today, he says, it is the busiest emergency department in B.C., with almost 100,000 patient visits per year.

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