Leadership in the hot seat as more Surrey Memorial Hospital staff speak out

Click to play video: 'Fraser Health leadership attacked in new open letter'
Fraser Health leadership attacked in new open letter
Global News has obtained a copy of an open letter, sent May 19, calling out leaders at the Ministry of Health and the Fraser Health Authority for failing to realize the depth of the crisis facing patients at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Richard Zussman reports. – May 30, 2023

The continuing reports of crisis conditions at Surrey Memorial Hospital have put the spotlight on leadership in the province’s health-care system, particularly at Fraser Health.

The latest salvo from health-care workers came Tuesday in the form of a public letter from doctors in the hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department warning of “unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes” — and taking leadership to task.

“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,” the letter states.

Click to play video: 'No quick fixes to Surrey health care emergency'
No quick fixes to Surrey health care emergency

Another letter from the hospital’s Medical Staff Association, sent May 19 and made public on Tuesday, accused the Ministry of Health and CEO and board members of Fraser Health of failing to acknowledge the crisis. What’s more, it threatened to put the hospital’s emergency department on diversion if more admitting doctors weren’t hired immediately.

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In an interview with Global News Tuesday, Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee acknowledged the concerns that have been raised about the hospital, but said she’s also heard support from a “huge number of people” about the work going on in the health region.

“With the team we’ve been meeting on a weekly basis to problem-solve together. I think the team is pointing out the resources challenge that has a long history,” Lee said.

“(The challenges are) especially pronounced now when the demand is higher than ever before, expectations have changed. We also need at the same time to transform the system. So I don’t think it’s a simple solution where there’s one person that’s responsible or there’s a single issue that needs to be dealt with.”

Click to play video: 'Gaining a perspective about the ‘crisis’ at Surrey Memorial Hospital'
Gaining a perspective about the ‘crisis’ at Surrey Memorial Hospital

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has also taken heat from front-line doctors, who have accused him and the health authority of not being transparent enough about the reality of the situation on the ground at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

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In an interview Tuesday Dix defended both Lee and the work the province has been doing in the health-care system.

“I am hearing their concerns about the extraordinary demands and their absolute commitment to give the highest possible level of care, well that’s our commitment too,” Dix said.

“But I want to remind everyone about the exceptional work that Dr. Lee and her team have done for the last number of years, which surely have been among the most difficult in public health care.”

As an example, Dix pointed to Fraser Health’s COVID-19 pandemic response in a region he said faced some of the toughest challenges in Canada, and its ability to reduce surgical and diagnostic wait times while doing so.

Click to play video: 'Family speaks out about patient’s ‘horrible’ experience at Surrey Memorial Hospital'
Family speaks out about patient’s ‘horrible’ experience at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Both Dix and Lee acknowledged the staffing problems at Surrey Memorial, but argue population growth, the effects of the pandemic and a global shortage of trained medical workers are out of their control.

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Dr. Joshua Greggain, president of Doctors of BC said the province’s health-care system is facing multiple layers of issues, that won’t be solved by a quick fix — including a change in leadership.

“It is really more about frustration and moral injury and burnout that leads us to where we are, and the call for an individual to be held to account for this — this isn’t an individual problem — I genuinely believe that everyone in the system understands the gravity of the situation,” he said.

Greggain said the Ministry of Health and the health authorities are “at the table” and recognize the challenges, but added that money alone won’t fix the problems.

At the same time, he said there is no question that front-line workers are feeling the strain of a system facing a combination of short-term and long-term problems, and that it is doctors’ duty to be advocates for their patients.

Click to play video: '‘I would have no hesitation of going to Surrey Memorial;’ Fraser Health CEO'
‘I would have no hesitation of going to Surrey Memorial;’ Fraser Health CEO

“It’s really about advocating for a better future for the patients we care for,” he said. “Which is why, right now, people are frustrated, are burnt out, and are feeling like they need to speak up.”

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Former Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts told Global News she believes there has been a lack of investment in the community, and a lack of acknowledgement on the government’s part of how serious the situation has become.

“The system is broken and it needs to be fixed,” she said.

“There’s lots of blame to go around for everyone, but I think there was not a recognition that there is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I think therein lies the problem.”

Meanwhile, those on the front line continue to advocate for accountability, transparency and action amid mounting wait times at Surrey Memorial Hospital, and no clear path to a solution.

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