An Open Letter to Fraser Health about a miserable visit to your ER made worse by a lack of communication, price-gouging, and lousy amenities

This blog post is a bit of a change of pace from my normal fare. On Sunday (Oct 14th) I spent over six hours in the waiting room of Langley Memorial Hospital with my 6-year-old daughter waiting to determine whether she had broken her arm. I tweeted about my experience during the odyssey and Fraser Health asked me to send an email to provide them with details. This blog post is intended to describe the miserable service at the facility and highlight some simple changes that could possibly help improve Langley Memorial ER’s horrible reputation in our community.

Let’s start with a qualifier, all three of my kids were born in Langley Memorial Hospital and the service we got in their maternity ward was first rate. This is a common sentiment in our community. It is the place to go to have a baby. That being said, every family I have talked to on the subject agrees that taking a child to the Langley ER is a virtual guarantee of a bad experience. One I plan on never voluntarily repeating.

The day started well, a fun Sunday birthday party attended by my six-year-old daughter. However, at the end of the party she had a bad fall and complained that her arm hurt a lot. An hour later, her hand was badly swollen, and her wrist and lower arm were very tender to the touch. Moreover, our normally happy girl was complaining of the pain. This is something our rough-and tumble youngest of three never does. It being a Sunday, with no walk-in clinics available with x-ray units, we made a decision that we had better make sure she had not broken her wrist/arm and so I packed her up and we headed to the hospital.

As a resident of Langley, we have three obvious choices for emergency rooms: Abbotsford (which has had a LOT of bad press in the last few months), Langley (our closest hospital) and Surrey (quite a bit longer drive). Before leaving the house my wife phoned Langley Memorial ER to ask if they had any issues or delays. The person on the other end informed my wife that they were not allowed to relay that type of information over the phone. A policy that makes exactly zero sense to me. Lacking any information to make an informed decision we headed down to Langley Memorial ER.

Arriving at the ER, I paid the $9 for two hours of parking, after all how long should it take to get an x-ray on a sunny Sunday?  Walking in the waiting room it didn’t look bad at all. There were a handful of people waiting and lots of available seats. They took my daughter’s information and asked us to sit to wait for the triage nurse. All pretty typical. The problem was, unbeknownst to us, a serious car accident had occurred earlier in the day that had turned the waiting room from a place where patients are seen and treated into a room where people would pile up, sitting for hours suffering in silence.

Shortly after we arrived a second family arrived with a daughter (eight years old) who had fallen the day before. Her parents were afraid of the lines at the hospital so decided to wait overnight to see if she felt better. I’m told this is a pretty common decision my fellow Langley parents make. We ended up being processed together so our stories are linked. The dad was at work so mom was there with her injured eight-year-old and a very bored four-year-old.

An hour after our arrival (clearly a bad sign) the triage nurse finally announced my daughter’s name. My daughter was whimpering (as she had not received any pain medication) and the triage nurse confirmed that she needed to see a doctor. So back to the chairs we went.

Almost two hours after we arrived the nurse called my daughter’s name and brought us back to “waiting area 3” inside the ER itself. There we mistakenly thought we might get some quick help. By this time the ER proper had filled up and my parking was about to expire so I left my daughter with the other child’s mom (they were also called in with us) while I went to re-up my parking. Recognizing that this was not going to be a quick trip after all, I moved my car to the longer-term lot (another $8.50 in parking fees).

Three hours into our wait, with still zero communication or further acknowledgement of our existence, my daughter needed a drink and a snack. Since we had seen no nurses or help of any sort, I went to the vending machine to buy a $2.50 bottle of water. You have to appreciate Fraser Health, charging double what every other machine charges for water in their ER. I suppose when you have a captive market you may as well milk them for all they are worth. Since my daughter was hungry and I hadn’t eaten since early in the day I decided to buy us snacks. Anyone want to guess what happened? Yes, I got my snack and then the machine took my money and my daughter’s snack got caught in the mechanism. While I really wanted to kick the machine into submission, instead I chose to pay for a second treat to get them both to fall. Honestly it is the little things that really infuriate. So three hours in and Fraser Health had soaked me for parking; over-charged us for water; and forced me to double-pay for their over-priced snacks while providing exactly zero help with for my deeply unhappy, whimpering daughter.

Remember how I said we thought we were going to get help when we moved out of the waiting room into the interior waiting area? Well it took another three hours in the back (five hours after our arrival) to finally SEE a doctor. Our daughter wasn’t taken to beds or anything like that, instead she (and the other girl) were both examined in the waiting room in area 3, where to no one’s surprise the doctor decided she needed an x-ray. Something either I or the triage nurse could have told them four+ hours earlier.

So after waiting five hours in chairs they finally sent us to the x-ray department. Needless to say, after all that time you can guess what happened. Yes, the one x-ray technician on duty was on a break. So, our two families (the other family joined us a few minutes after we arrived in the x-ray department) waited for a half-hour (once again without one single person telling us what was happening) for the x-ray that any cogent professional could have made clear was needed four hours earlier. Once the x-ray technician got back she quickly, and efficiently, took the pictures and we were sent back to area 3 where, in our absence, all the seats had been re-filled and we were left to stand to wait some more. Thankfully, a nice gentleman, desperately in need of stitches, gave us his seat as my daughter curled herself into the smallest ball she could, clinging onto the teddy bear she brought to comfort herself, on my lap.

45 minutes later the doctor came back to inform us that the arm wasn’t broken and that we should ice her arm and give her Advil for the pain and we were sent on our way. We had spent over 6 hours in the ER and our total face time was:

  • Less than 2 minutes with a triage nurse
  • Less than 5 minutes (in total) with an ER doctor
  • A couple x-rays

No food, no water, no nurses (except the nurses that rushed by careful to never meet our eyes), no pain killers but almost $20 in parking, plus over-priced water and a couple over-priced snacks. Most frustratingly there was not a spare word more than the absolute minimum needed to pass simple instructions to us.

As for that family that spent six of those hours with us? Their daughter did indeed have a broken arm and she was off for another wait, this time at the cast clinic. By this point the mom had switched with the dad as mom had to go to work. Thankfully, she was able to take their four-year-old with her as he had gone from bored to really angry and very tired. Six hours in an emergency room has that effect on very small children.

I finally got my daughter home just before 9 pm. For six hours I had held her curled up on my lap with no painkillers and no communication from the ER staff. As we left we could see the ER was absolutely full, with every seat filled and patients overflowing out the doorway. One particularly telling sight was a woman holding a hand that looked clearly broken in a wheelchair in the entrance-way.  Likely none had a clue, when they headed to their local Emergency Room, that the Langley ER was backed up and that they would likely spend the better part of their night waiting for treatment.

To be clear, during the minimal time we spent with a doctor, she was very kind, but it is simply ridiculous that a hospital in the modern age can’t supply families with a guesstimate about wait times. Vancouver Coastal Health operates a wait time app that helps their patients make informed choices. Even the blood donor clinic has a little sign that tells you that you will have to wait 45, 60, or 90 minutes to give a donation. But somehow Fraser Health doesn’t think that families should be allowed to make informed choices. Even in cases like ours where the person on the other end of the phone knew full well that that they were handling a major accident that would leave our little girl sitting untreated in pain for hours before being seen; they told us nothing. Had we known we could have re-directed to another, less busy, ER in the area.

The saddest part of our entire story (besides the fact an eight-yer-old girl spent 36 hours with a broken arm because her parents rightly feared the wait at the Langley ER) is the response I got from EVERY family I spoke with today at my kids’ school.

EVERY family that had used the facility had a nightmare story about Langley Memorial ER. All agreed that taking a child to the Langley Memorial ER is a virtual guarantee, a virtual guarantee, of a bad experience.

Think about that. It seems like our entire community agrees that they simply can’t trust their local hospital ER with their kids’ well-being. That is such an incredible indictment of your organization. An organization where patients are treated like mushrooms, with bottomless wallets, who are expected to sit quietly and not complain because the ER is literally plastered with signs warning that they can kick you out for raising a fuss. Frankly, if you want to build a connection with your community don’t play that ridiculous PR video (running on a loop) on the one television in the waiting room. Give us the information we need to make informed decisions about the health and treatment of our kids by posting wait times. Charge a fair price for parking and don’t soak us at the vending machines. Set up a water fountain where families who can’t afford it can get water for their sick kids. These are such simple things you can do. Other facilities and organizations seem able to make a bad experience a better one, why can’t yours?


Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository 

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6 Responses to An Open Letter to Fraser Health about a miserable visit to your ER made worse by a lack of communication, price-gouging, and lousy amenities

  1. Leslie Nichole says:

    Wow, I am sorry you and your daughter had a horrible experience. I spent a day in the ER on Friday with my mother who was sick. I think it is slightly odd the person in the phone said they couldn’t tell you anything, I worked at a doctors office until recent and you could give times and say you’re backed up but couldn’t comment on a particular patient. I hope she’s starting to feel a little better.


  2. Alison Malis says:

    What does Langley say is the problem? Lack of ER doctors?


  3. Margy says:

    I can sure understand how frustrating this was for you.

    I just looked at the wait times for my part of Alberta this Tuesday afternoon – 1 to 3 hours for Calgary Hospitals and Urgent Care Centres – no wait times listed for the three Urgent Care Centres in the towns immediately outside Calgary.
    The one and only time I’ve used the Urgent Care Centre in our town, the triage nurse stopped the bleeding (deep cut on my leg) after about an hour of waiting. Several hours later I got stitches. But the centre is only a 10 minute drive from my home, while the Calgary locations are 45 minutes away.
    We are really fortunate that we have a 24 hour Urgent Care Centre now. Getting the facility was far easier than getting the staff.


  4. G. Barry Stewart says:

    In the late 1980s, while residing in Hope, we were at UBC for a summer conference. Our middle son fell backwards off the sofa and gashed his head on the baseboard heater, just before bedtime.

    We arrived at UBC hospital emerg and there was a short line-up. We figured our stay would be relatively short — then an ambulance brought in a patient with severe burns. Naturally, the burn victim got top-of-list attention.

    Unnaturally, everyone else was ignored, as there was only ONE E.R. doctor. It took hours to get treatment. After it was all done, I wrote a letter of complaint, saying we could have driven to Hope and back — including the E.R. treatment — in the time it took to get served at UBCH.

    Things may have changed since, but at the time, Hope’s Fraser Canyon Hospital was well-served by the community’s doctors. There might have been only one lead doctor on call each night — but if the volume hit the fan, more doctors would be called in. It was great service and much appreciated.

    • As far as overpriced water goes: hospitals should have water stations, as are becoming common in rec centres and schools. They treat and cool the water and serve as fountains and bottle-fillers. And they’re free. At the rec centre in Chilliwack, they have this kind of water station. Do a 180º turn and the vending machine sells bottled water for $2.50. Such a rip…


  5. melissa H says:

    Have you had a look at the European models of health care? It is time we had a debate about our health care and recognize its shortcomings. It is a systemic issue and needs systemic change.


  6. Allan says:

    Who is responsible for such poor service at Langley general?


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