More than 35 physicians and midwives at Surrey Memorial Hospital are adding their voice to the chorus of patients and staff criticizing the institution for a lack of resources affecting quality of care.
In an open letter to the “citizens of Surrey,” the women’s health providers claim a “crisis caused by chronic and pervasive under-resourcing” has led to “unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes.”
According to the letter, the challenges have resulted in one newborn death, “countless near misses” and “moral injury” to care providers at the beleaguered hospital.
“Women often lack access to effective pain management and do not receive the necessary privacy during and after childbirth,” the letter states.
“The strain on our resources prevents our teams from delivering care that is required and expected, directly resulting in poor outcomes which fall sharply below the standard for a tertiary level maternity care centre in our province.”
The signed letter states that it is a direct response to a May 15 letter from dozens of emergency room (ER) doctors at Surrey Memorial Hospital, who warned of “unsafe conditions” and a failure to communicate the breadth of the “crisis to patients and the public.”
The next week, Dr. Urbain Ip — a former medical director of the facility — said the crisis had reached a “boiling point,” marked by a shortage of house doctors and acute care beds. He told Global News he wouldn’t send his own family there for care.
Two days after that, Global News obtained a copy of the notes that some emergency room doctors at Surrey Memorial Hospital were adding to patient charts amid congestion and delay.
The notes stated that the hospital and Fraser Health Authority were operating under “substandard conditions,” and “unacceptable care delays to admission” due to a shortage of admitting doctors, while the ER continued to be “dangerously congested,” and without “appropriate monitoring and staffing ratios.”
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Since then, multiple patients have reached out to Global News to share serious concerns and frustration with the care they, or their loved ones, received at the hospital.
On May 26, a Surrey woman and retired nurse said her 89-year-old mother recently endured “deplorable” conditions, including a degrading 60-hour wait in the ER.
The woman said she had to clean her mother up in a public bathroom repeatedly as she suffered severe gastrointestinal illness, including chronic diarrhea, from an infection.
On Monday, Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss, an obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke with Global News saying she was inspired by her colleagues to also pen an open letter on the dire situation at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
“We were all inspired by our emergency physician colleagues who were very brave and speaking up and feel that it’s important to keep the momentum going,” Storness-Bliss explained.
She adds, concerns about staffing levels from herself and colleagues were met with little change.
“Surrey Memorial’s Family Birthing Unit was renovated 10 years ago. It was meant to address 4,000 deliveries per year. We do 6,000 deliveries per year. And despite lots of requests and data, we’ve gained two beds in that period of time.”
Global News has reached out to Fraser Health for comment. Health Minister Adrian Dix was unavailable for an interview on Monday evening.
In a previous interview, Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee said that while there are challenges in the system, “everybody is doing their best” and she “would have no hesitation” about seeking care at Surrey Memorial Hospital herself. She denied that patients died or suffered negative outcomes from delays in care, but said some patient cases are being given a second look.
Dix has also said the province has tabled a contract offer to hospitalists and negotiations are ongoing in a bid to address their concerns and reach a deal. He has also disputed claims that the health authority has tried to prevent physicians from going public with their concerns.
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The most recent letter from women’s health providers, obtained by Global News on Monday, further states that the Family Birthing Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital is grappling with a shortage of supervised beds, insufficient space and a lack of nurses.
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It claims the unit has had to limit the number of patients it takes who are not in labour, but require a high level of inpatient care just after labour, in order to make room for labouring patients.
With our shortages of beds and nursing staff, our unit is frequently on diversion where we cannot accept patients and must transfer those already in our care to other hospitals for necessary obstetrical care,” the letter reads.
“The practice of regularly relying on transferring of patients outside of their own community represents inappropriate care and is a symptom of a broken system.”
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The physicians and midwives also raise concerns about a lack of access to the operating room for gynecologists in the midst of a growing surgical wait-list that is 77 per cent higher than the maximum amount of time that clinical evidence shows is appropriate to wait for a particular procedure.
“This means that women in Surrey are suffering from significant pelvic disease, at times requiring multiple blood transfusions while awaiting surgery, requiring extended leave from work and with
no choice but to use costly medications, not without side effects, while they wait,” they write.
Multiple requests to publish accurate surgical wait time information for gynecology patients have gone unanswered, they allege.
The letter goes on to criticize hospital leadership and the provincial government for failing to deliver the necessary investments and expansions for the hospital, ignoring “the alarm” sounded “loud and clear” by patients and staff for the past five years.
“The end result of this perfect storm is, not surprisingly, dismal,” it states.
“We emphatically urge our community not to tolerate this degree of neglect from individuals who have the capacity to drive change at the regional and provincial levels.”
B.C. Health Minister reacts to Surrey emergency doctor’s cry for help
The B.C. government has taken a number of measures in recent months to address a province-wide shortage of doctors and nurses.
In April, it ratified a new deal for nurses that includes pay increases of more than 13 per cent over three years, mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, improved job flexibility, and more than $100 million in funds dedicated to improving retention.
In January, the province said it would waive application and assessment fees for internationally-educated nurses in a bid to attract more of them, and provide more than $4,000 in financial support to cover other costs of relocating to B.C.
The government’s newly-restructured fee model for doctors also took effect in February, aimed at addressing inequities, increasing compensation, and attracting and retaining family physicians. It allows doctors to charge based on the amount of time spent with a patient, the number of patients seen in a day, and the total number of patients supported by a practice, rather than a simple fee for service.