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'Advocate for yourself': Immunocompromised woman leaves hospital after learning COVID-19-positive patient not isolated

Colleen Titus had severe pain in her abdomen, so on Jan. 27, she went to the emergency department at Royal Columbian Hospital.

She stayed the night, and the next day, staff moved her to a different wing. Her hospital bed was in the hallway because all rooms were at capacity. While in her bed, Titus says she overheard nurses talking about a COVID-19-positive patient in the room right beside her medical beds. Thinking COVID-19 patients were isolated on a separate floor, Titus checked with a nurse.

“(I asked), ‘Does the patient in that room have COVID?’ And they tell me, ‘Don’t say anything, but yes, they do,’” recalled Titus.

This was alarming for her. Although she is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Titus lives with several conditions that make her immunocompromised, including diabetes. In early 2021, she was hospitalized with COVID-19 for a week.

“I asked (the nurse) if I could be kept safe, because I didn’t want to be put at risk,” said Titus. “She said, ‘No, I can’t keep you safe. We have no beds in the hospital, and there’s nowhere I can put you to keep you safe.’”

Titus made the difficult decision to discharge herself from the hospital and go home.

As of last month, hospitals are permitted to place patients who test positive for COVID-19 while hospitalized for other reasons in the same rooms as those who do not have the virus, but are vaccinated and considered low-risk of severe illness. It comes as an increased number of patients are admitted with COVID-19, or catch the virus while in hospital. Some acute-care facilities may no longer have the space to keep infected patients in separate rooms.

“That is an infection prevention and control team decision, made at a hospital by hospital, room by room basis, depending on the needs in that facility,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a press briefing on Jan. 21.

Titus was not aware of this decision, and had hospital staff not been willing to disclose information to her, she says she may not have realized a COVID-19-positive patient was being treated several feet away from her. She’s concerned the public is not widely aware of this possible scenario, which she feels contradicts all COVID-19 public health measures that have been taken to date.

“If all these other (safety protocols) are being put in place for us to follow, why are the regulations not being put in place in the hospital, where that’s the most vulnerable place you can be?” she asked.

Titus, who has a nursing background, understands patient confidentiality is taken seriously in health-care settings, but she believes COVID-19-negative patients who are deemed high-risk for serious illness from the virus have a right to know who around them is COVID-19-positive.

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is also troubled by the mixing of infected and uninfected people.

“Our nurses are getting exposed to this as well and becoming sick,” said Aman Grewal, president of the BCNU.

“With the mixing and mingling of patients, (nurses’) exposure risk becomes higher.”

In response, the B.C. Ministry of Health says mixing patients in hospitals rarely happens.

“We have only knowingly placed a COVID-positive person in a room with a COVID-negative person on one occasion,” said a ministry spokesperson in a statement to CTV News.

The ministry adds that only asymptomatic COVID-19-positive patients are eligible to share rooms with those who are not infected. People with symptoms, including respiratory issues, are still being isolated.

Still, the change in patient care guidelines does not sit well with Titus, who’s already endured a tough battle with the virus. Getting tests to determine what’s causing the pain in her abdomen will take longer than it would if she stayed in the hospital, but she says it’s better to have peace of mind at home than to risk catching the virus a second time. Her message to anyone seeking treatment at a hospital right now is to advocate for themselves.

“And if you can’t do it, have a family member advocate for you and ask those questions,” Titus said. “Is there a COVID patient in my vicinity or in my room? Am I going to be kept safe?” Top Stories

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