‘Every Nova Scotian should be concerned’: woman concerned about mother’s care at hospital

A Nova Scotia woman is sounding the alarm about hospital care in the province.

Lovessa Johnson’s mother, Millie Johnson, complained of excruciating pain last week. So, Johnson took her mother to Dartmouth General Hospital.

Preliminary test results showed she has multiple myeloma, a cancer in white blood cells.

Doctors discovered two spots on her spinal column and decided emergency radiation was needed, but that treatment can only be done at the Victoria General (VG) Dickson Center in Halifax.

“That is what started this whole commuting back and fourth,” said Johnson.

She said she asked if her mother could be transferred to the VG but was told there were no beds, so her mother remains a patient at Dartmouth General and each day is transported to the Dickson building in Halifax and back.

“The transporting takes a huge toll on her,” said Johnson.

“Her treatments make her tired, her cancer makes her tired and then all that travel on top, it’s a huge ordeal. It’s hours. It’s not just a quick over and back, it’s hours of prep, transportation, treatment and back.”

Then on Tuesday, Johnson said things got worse.

“They came and picked her up to transport her for radiation,” she said. “Shortly after they departed, she felt a tug or pull near her test tube.”

Johnson said doctors X-rayed her mother after the ordeal and believe she has a fractured rib.

“My mother’s been in there, moaning in agony,” said Johnson. “A cancer diagnosis is scary enough, and then to have all of this on top, there’s no need of it.”

Johnson said somebody needs to step up because the system that is supposed to help her mother is impacting her health even more.

“It’s not acceptable that there’s not enough beds, there has to be something,” she said.

Drew Bethune, medical director of the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program, said that lack of beds is not the issue. He said as of Wednesday morning, there were beds available but daily transfers are required sometimes and there are numerous reasons why a patient wouldn’t be transferred.

“It’s not ideal, but in some circumstances, it’s the safest alternative for the patients if their problems are related to other things than radiotherapy,” he said.

Due to patient confidentiality, Bethune was unable to speak specifically about Johnson’s case but said that oncology beds are for patients who exclusively need radiology.

“If they have a number of other complicated problems that are the main difficulty, then they’re better off with a care team that are experts at dealing with those problems,” he said.

Bethune said he was only made aware of the situation after he was contacted by media and admits that their current system is not perfect.

“We are looking at rearranging our in-patient cancer care,” he said. “We are looking at creating a particular cancer ward for patients that will help alleviate the kinds of problems that we’re having now, where patients need radiotherapy, but have complicated problems that we don’t necessarily have the clinical environment set up here at the VG to deal with,” he said.

Bethune is now looking into Johnson’s case specifically to find out where she she should stay to make sure she gets the best treatment and why the family was told there were no beds available at the VG.

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