The crisis at Surrey Memorial Hospital appears to be escalating.
Global News has obtained an email from Fraser Health calling on hospitalists to backfill 18 shifts at Surrey Memorial Hospital as the need for hospitalists remains dire.
A hospitalist is a doctor that cares for hospitalized patients after they have been admitted, and doctors and health professionals at Surrey Memorial have already sounded the alarm at the lack of hospitalists resulting in some patients waiting days to be seen by an admitting physician.
Global News has also obtained a letter from Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Medical Staff Association, calling on B.C.’s Ministry of Health and Fraser Health to fill vacant positions or have the emergency room stop accepting new patients and send them to other hospitals.
The letter, dated May 19, states physicians at the hospital are being placed under “perilous conditions” due to staffing shortages and the number of “preventable deaths (is) rising in (the) overcrowded and understaffed ER.”
The letter states the province and Fraser Health are putting the citizens of Surrey in jeopardy and without bolstering the numbers of hospitalists at Surrey Memorial, there will be no other option but to place the hospital ER on diversion.
Then, more than 35 physicians and midwives at the hospital added their voices 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.
Meanwhile, Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, said the health authority knows there are challenges being faced by staff and patients in the system but said if she found herself in need of health care she would not hesitate to go to Surrey Memorial or other Fraser Health facilities.
An extraordinary summit was held Tuesday to deal with the health care emergency in Surrey.
Health care providers and local leaders came together to brainstorm and help find solutions.
Dr. Ahmad Ashrafi, regional division head and chief of thoracic surgery at Surrey Memorial Hospital and Fraser Health said the summit was a great opportunity for health professionals from different departments at Surrey Memorial Hospital to gather and discuss the issues.
“It’s essentially revolving around manpower or human resources as well as some of the services that we’re currently not in proportion with the rate of growth of our city and the necessary services that our city should be benefiting from,” he told Global News.
Ashrafi said he thinks leadership is doing their best to address the issues but others are not as easy to deal with due to the rate of population growth.
“I think as a first step it was very important for the physicians to gather and construct a list and also, it’s better to be more solution-oriented and think of solutions rather than spend too much time looking at problems. So I think it was a great first step.”
Ashrafi said he could not comment on specifics at this time.
The Surrey Hospitals Foundation will produce a report coming out of the summit but it will not be available for a few weeks.
Mayor of Surrey, Brenda Locke, attended the summit and said the city has now reached the tipping point when it comes to health care, education and infrastructure.
“Surrey’s growth has been tremendous, there’s no doubt about that,” she said. “But when we look at where dollars are spent by the provincial and federal governments, it’s north of the Fraser every single time.”
She said there will be an office tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital, a new hospital and cancer centre in Cloverdale and services will increase at Peace Arch Hospital.
But Locke said it’s not enough.
“I’ve seen bed after bed after bed in hallways, family members trying to keep the dignity of their loved one in a hallway setting, it’s not OK,” she said of a recent tour of Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Dianne Watts, the former mayor of the City of Surrey, agreed, saying these issues are not new but it has come to a head now.
“We are in a crisis, there’s no doubt about that. And I think, over the years, we’ve seen the growth, we know that the city is one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire country and we have a large population at both ends of the spectrum as in youth as well as in seniors,” Watts said.
“When I was the former mayor for almost a decade, we saw some significant investments at Surrey Memorial Hospital with the beds, the Jim Pattison Outpatient Facility, the mental health and addictions precinct. So there was a recognition that the population was shifting and growing south of the Fraser.”
Watts said there is a movement of young families to the city and investments in health care should be a priority for all levels of government.
“The system is broken and the system needs to be fixed,” she added. “And you can only do that when you have the front-line health-care professionals, doctors, nurses, and those folks to come to the table and really look at those solutions.”
Watts said she thinks there is a lack of investment in Surrey’s health care and that needs to change with the Health Summit being an important first step.
“Surrey Memorial is at a crisis and we need that to be addressed as soon as possible.”