Surgery postponed for fifth time — at operating room door

George Harrison was oh so close after waiting two years for abdominal surgery.

GEORGE HARRISON REACHED the operating room door at St. Joseph's General Hospital on Wednesday when exploratory abdominal surgery was postponed for the fifth time.

GEORGE HARRISON REACHED the operating room door at St. Joseph's General Hospital on Wednesday when exploratory abdominal surgery was postponed for the fifth time.

George Harrison was oh so close after waiting two years for abdominal surgery.

Accompanied by his wife Shirley, the 81-year-old checked into St. Joseph’s General Hospital on Wednesday morning, donned a hospital gown and got as far as the operating room door, only to be turned away because no beds were available.

Apparently the emergency department was spilling into the hallways with patients needing beds at the Intensive Care Unit.

It was the fifth time the Courtenay resident has been bumped from surgery.

“I’m really upset,” said Harrison, the Environmental Initiative Award winner at the 2010 Community Awards, recognized for a bottle drive campaign that has raised $87,000 in 14 years for charity.

“I don’t like to blow my own horn, but I have done so much for the special children of this Valley, and then when I want something, everybody’s looking out the window.”

Harrison has three hernias, but his doctor said they are not causing the pain in his abdomen. The exact problem is unknown.

The plan Wednesday was to explore by scope to determine if anything could be done surgically, which would have placed Harrison in ICU. He is to be rescheduled for the first opening after the New Year.

“But I still gotta suffer the bloody pain till after the New Year,” he said.

Hospital administration regrets any time an operation is cancelled, president/CEO Jane Murphy said in an interview.

“To have it cancelled particularly at the last minute, we know, is very unfortunate. We do sincerely apologize for that.”

The hospital, Murphy added, works “extremely hard” to prevent cancelling surgeries, which she said has occurred just a handful of times in the past four to six months.

“That being said, our goal would be to not have to cancel surgeries,” said Murphy, who credits the efforts of physicians, surgeons and all hospital staff.

Post-operatively, Murphy said it is critical to assure the appropriate type of bed and level of service to provide quality of care needed by patients.

“It’s a little different in every case,” she said. “Sometimes it really is hour-by-hour … It has been very busy, particularly the last 24 to 48 hours. There’s peaks and valleys to it that sometimes are a little difficult to predict. Finding beds for all our patients has been a challenge, particularly in the last little bit.”

Shirley questions where healthcare funding — including lottery money — is going. She also points out that a regional hospital is “way down the road” while people like George are waiting in the wings.

“Can we get even a smidge more money going into hospitals so the sick people can at least have a chance of surviving?” she said.

Murphy said the hospital is maximizing its resources and being as efficient as possible to care for and maintain a smooth patient flow throughout St. Joseph’s.

Administration, she added, is working closely with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, especially in terms of seniors and residential care, and community programs to support longer stays in homes or earlier discharges from the hospital, with appropriate supports.

“That’s a key area that we’re focusing on are alternative level of care patients,” Murphy said.

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