03/17/2014 16:54 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT

ER overcrowding prompts nurses to quit Royal Columbian Hospital

The overcrowding at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., has become so bad nurses are quitting the emergency room according to the B.C. Nurses Union.

Since February, spokesperson Catherine Pope says 10 nurses have resigned from the ER, four of whom were transferred to the cardiac lab.

She says the other six have either transferred to other units, other hospitals or taken early retirement.

Dr. Adam Lund, an emergency physician at Royal Columbian Hospital, says just a few years ago, putting a patient in a bed in a hallway was considered a scandal — now it's considered routine even for emergency procedures.

"There have been cardiac arrests in the hallway," says Lund, who calls the situation "unacceptable."

"When you're in the hallway there's no oxygen, there's no alert bell for someone to push or cord to pull to even say there's a problem."

Lund says the 10 ER nurses resigned in the last three weeks after conditions became unbearable.

"They haven't left nursing. They've just decided this particular clinical opportunity is just no longer tolerable," he said.

Lund says overcrowded ERs are just a symptom of the problem, and the root cause is a lack of space in other areas of the hospital.

He is calling on B.C.'s Minister of Health Terry Lake to take immediate action and overhaul the system to return emergency rooms to full capacity.

"It's administrative malpractice to continue to block the emergency department and say you know what, do emergency medicine in the hallway, do it in the waiting room, do it in the ambulance bay. I think we need the emergency department back."

In 2008 the fire marshal ordered an area of the emergency room at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., to be cleared because of overcrowding.