Health minister promises expansion of overwhelmed Surrey Memorial Hospital

Surrey Memorial Hospital will be expanded, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Wednesday, with more details to come in the next five months.

The expansion will increase capacity for more inpatient and outpatient care, surgeries and clinical programs at the hospital, he said.

Though more information on the hospital’s expansion is a long way away, Dix announced a long list of around 30 immediate and medium-term steps intended to improve the situation at SMH in the meantime.

The hospital has been in the hot seat recently, with doctors sounding the alarm on an overcrowded and understaffed emergency room, saying patients are waiting days in the ER to be admitted and receiving treatment in the hallway.

“We’ve heard of the impact of dealing with chronic congestion, and very high daily volumes at the hospital, the significant overcapacity situation that exists here and indeed in other hospitals as we know in B.C.,” Dix said.

“Yet through it all, health-care workers here at Surrey Memorial Hospital remain fully dedicated to their patients every day. They show up every day to give care and they are exceptional.” 

Dix said actions that are already underway include establishing a new contract with hospitalists, increasing funding for physicians and nurses and opening a care and triage unit in the emergency department.

Nearby community health services will be used to relieve patient demand at the ER, and hours will be expanded at nearby urgent and primary care centres.

He said funding will be given to hire more internal care physicians, clinical associates, associate physicians, nurse practitioners and security offers.

Over the next year and a half, Dix said, renal services will be expanded, a second radiology suite and cardiac catheterization labs will be built, and new MRI and CT machines will be added.

The new catheterization labs are something doctors have been calling for.

“I think this is going to have a huge impact,” said Dr. Kapil Bhagirath, a cardiologist at Surrey Memorial.

“They’ve been needed desperately for a long time, maybe the last 10 years or more. And I think the government did respond nicely with their announcement today,” he said.

Dr. Bhagirath said while doctors do their best, there have been situations where had these labs already been at SMH, “the outcomes would have been better. Unfortunately, there have been some tragedies.”

Obstetricians and gynecologists have also called the situation at Surrey Memorial a crisis, saying staffing shortages were leading to unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes.

Now doctors say they feel heard and are grateful for that.

“Today, I think overall is a win. It’s a win for the community and Fraser Health in general,” said Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss.

She says doctors are calling for capital investment in infrastructure for maternity care.

“While the announcement is a little bit vague on what that will look like, there is a commitment to improving that infrastructure,” she said.

The minister’s announcement was also vague on the number of new healthcare workers that would be hired and the cost of the vast improvements that have been promised.

 “We are here to be a part of the team that implements these solutions. Our job is to make sure that what’s written on paper today and spoken today over the next period of time gets improvemented,” said Fraser Health Board Chair Jim Sinclair.

Operating rooms and the pediatric emergency waiting area will be renovated.

Other areas of expansion will include outpatient home health, clinical social work, physiotherapy and respiratory therapy, Dix said.

“These are significant actions but they are doable,” the health minister said. 

The Surrey Board of Trade, which has been calling for investments in staffing and infrastructure, was also happy with today’s announcement.

“It took great courage in two weeks of meetings to come to short, medium and long-term implementation plans,” said Anita Huberman of the Surrey Board of Trade.

“This is only the beginning of what needs to be done and is a step in the right direction for Surrey’s workforce,’ she said. 

SMH has the largest ER in the Fraser Health region, seeing more than 160,000 visits a year. An open letter last week called for the ER to shut down to new patients if resources continue to be as stretched-thin as they are, creating dangerous conditions for people in need of care.

Frontline workers in the hospital’s family birthing unit said in an earlier open letter that the crisis has led to one newborn death and countless near misses.

Last week, Dix announced an Emergency Operations Centre was activated at the beleaguered hospital, which is an internal alert that authorizes managers to bring on extra staff and use other resources to expand operations to meet soaring patient demand.

Meanwhile, the minister also said he will be meeting with hospitals across the province to see what their needs are and what can be done.


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