Social media says it’s chaos, but visits to Vernon Jubilee Hospital say otherwise

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Chairs at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital sit empty.
April 09, 2020 – 6:00 PM

Shannon Specht spent most of last Sunday sitting at home in severe pain.

“I couldn’t move my arm without it hurting really bad,” Specht told

The Vernon resident wasn’t taking part in any daredevil antics when she injured herself but pulled a muscle at the top of her shoulder while reaching into the washing machine. None-the-less the pain was immense.

“I was very nervous to go (to the hospital),” she said. “I was expecting a mob of sick people.”

After hours in pain she “bit the bullet” and headed to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital emergency room, April 5. What she found shocked her.

“The hospital was empty,” she said. “This (was) not what I was expecting whatsoever.”

The B.C. government has said visits to emergency room departments are down by 50 per cent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The province has also cancelled elective surgeries in preparation for a surge in coronavirus cases. Currently, around 40 per cent of hospital beds in the province lie empty.

It’s understandable for a person to have reservations before heading to the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Specht said posts on local Facebook groups specific to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital had painted a far different picture which caused her the anxiety.

“People are actually trying to scare people away from this place,” she said. “It angered me and made me mad and sad because there are actually people out there (who) do need to go to the hospital and they’re worried about it.”

Interior Health Authority President Susan Brown told people can go to the emergency department if they need immediate medical attention.

“The health care system is there for people who need it regardless of what’s happening,” she said. “That’s our job to make sure if, for any reason, an emergency got overwhelmed related to COVID, we would make sure there were things put in place to decongest that and make it available to those who do require the emergency.”

And it’s not just emergency departments who are seeing fewer visits.

Doctors of B.C. released a statement April 3, saying there was a misconception that patients shouldn’t contact their doctor for routine appointments or non-COVID-19 related illness when they should.

On a Saturday morning, the parking lot at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital is far quieter than usual allowing for the rare opportunity to park near the main entrance. Walking into the building it is quiet. At the front door, two, masked healthcare workers ask about COVID-19 like symptoms. Whether people have travelled, have a cough or fever or difficulty breathing. There’s barely a soul about. Tape cordons-off every other chair, so people can’t sit too close to each other while waiting. 

However, Specht’s misconceptions about the Vernon Jubilee Hospital being overflowing and chaotic appear to be commonplace.

When Megean Dahms scratched her eye putting in a contact lens on Saturday, April 4, she knew she had to do something about it.

“I was crying…  because I was in so much pain,” Dahma said. “The pain was so bad.”

In tremendous pain and not able to open her eye she knew as it was the weekend she had no choice but to go to emergency.

“I didn’t really want to go,” she said… “I think a lot of people are thinking as soon as you walk in there’s going to be sick people everywhere, but from my experience, that’s not what it is, it was empty, there wasn’t anyone in there.”

Dahms had her eye scanned and was given drops and the doctor said she would be able to see again within 24 to 48 hours. A day later her sight came back.

Dahms said she believes she’d videos of hospitals overseas which gave her the impression B.C. hospitals might be the same.

However, she was also worried about becoming infected.

Interior Health spokesperson Susan Duncan said patients who are experiencing symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19, such as respiratory illness, should call ahead so they can be directed to the appropriate room for assessment. Once they get there they’re masked and situated in a room away from other emergency room patients.

While Dahms said her misconceptions probably came from overseas news coverage, Specht points the finger directly at social media and posts directly referring to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital. She said she’ll never view social media the same way again.

So with 40 per cent of hospital beds empty and wards usually bustling with patients what are hospital staff doing all day?

“Staff who are not required in their regular areas are actively participating in training and mock scenarios to prepare for COVID-19 patients,” Duncan said. “We are also redeploying people into areas of the hospital where their services are needed.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2020