‘Stark’ funding disparity highlighted amid crisis at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Click to play video: 'Health minister meets with doctors over Surrey Memorial Hospital crisis'
Health minister meets with doctors over Surrey Memorial Hospital crisis
Health Minister Adrian Dix met Wednesday with doctors raising serious concerns over the care they're able to offer patients at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Grace Ke reports. – May 31, 2023

As a resource crisis at Surrey Memorial Hospital continues to dominate headlines in B.C., attention is being drawn to the disparate health-care funding allocated to Vancouver and Surrey.

Surrey is among the fastest-growing cities in Canada, driving much of the region’s growth. But while Vancouver has four hospitals, each of which has an emergency room, Surrey has but one.

“They have four ERs, which is grossly overfunding a population that they serve, versus the population that Surrey serves with one ER,” Dr. Roopjeet Kahlon, president of the Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Medical Staff Association, said on Tuesday.

“There is a mismatch of funding, of health-care resources being supplied to Surrey and it isn’t just physician contracts. The issue is much larger and systemic.”

Click to play video: 'Crisis inside of Surrey Memorial Hospital escalating'
Crisis inside of Surrey Memorial Hospital escalating

On May 19, Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Medical Staff Association penned a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix, highlighting the “perilous conditions” under which physicians are expected to deliver top-notch care.

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The letter also criticizes hospital leadership, noting a “foreseeable” depletion of hospitalists that has resulted in “compromised” care, patient deterioration and increased “preventable deaths” in an overcrowded emergency department.

Two other May letters, one from ER physicians and another from women’s health providers at the hospital, also slammed Fraser Health and the B.C. government for a resource crisis that has left patient health in the lurch, at times with devastating consequences.

The latter letter from 36 physicians and midwives also draws attention to a “stark” disparity in resource distribution for health care between Vancouver and Surrey.

“As healthcare providers, we are unwavering in our commitment to serving our diverse community,” they wrote. “Our community is deserving of equitable resource allocation. It is essential that this issue of funding imbalance is rectified.”

Click to play video: 'Fraser Health leadership attacked in new open letter'
Fraser Health leadership attacked in new open letter

Surrey Memorial Hospital is the second-largest hospital in the province, but has the busiest emergency room, according to Fraser Health. It has nearly 45,000 staff and volunteers.

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More than 650,000 people live in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region and more than 530,000 live in Surrey. Among Kahlon’s key concerns is that Surrey Memorial Hospital doesn’t have enough MRI machines or interventional radiology capability, and no catheterization laboratory or ability to treat strokes.

“Surrey Memorial Hospital is a non-refusal site for Delta, Peace Arch and Langley, so we often get requests to transfer patients from those hospitals to ours,” she added.

“So you should probably factor in the population much wider to really capture what Surrey Memorial Hospital is being asked to provide daily.”

Despite comparable populations, a report prepared for the Surrey Board of Trade in February found that VCH has access to 2,000 acute beds, 6,700 residential beds, 270 rehabilitation beds, and 900 assisted living and respite beds across its hospitals, while Surrey Memorial Hospital has just 634 beds altogether.

Through audited statements of 2020-21 funding for Fraser Health and VCH, the report found that the former received $2,229 in funds per person, while the latter received $3,033. The report was presented to Premier David Eby and Dix earlier this year.

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

Dix met with Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee and several doctors on Wednesday morning to discuss the influx of concerns raised in the past two weeks.

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He said Lee continues to have his “full confidence” and there will be many more “face-to-face” meetings in the coming weeks.

In an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Dix said, “Surrey, in particular, and Fraser Health, in particular, suffered most from the decisions made for the 10 years before I became minister of health,” citing a lack of investment in health care.

He recognized, however, the projected growth for the Metro Vancouver city and the need for greater funding down the road.

“We know that Surrey is going to see the most significant increase in cancer diagnosis because of its growing and aging population over the next 10 years,” he said.

“Surrey will be the only community in B.C. with two cancer centres and it’s because of demand … but we also have to deal with the immediate, and that’s why we’re working with doctors.”

Under his watch, he said new contracts for hospitalists at Fraser Health have “taken too long, but it was partly because of the work we were all doing together in the pandemic,” though an offer is now on the table.

Fraser Health is not only facing challenges at Surrey Memorial Hospital, he added, but at Langley Memorial, the Royal Columbian in New Westminster, Eagle Ridge in Port Moody and more.

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Click to play video: 'Urgent summit addresses Surrey’s hospital emergency'
Urgent summit addresses Surrey’s hospital emergency

Global News requested comment from Fraser Health board chair Jim Sinclair on Wednesday. He deferred that request to the health minister.

In a Tuesday interview, Fraser Health’s CEO said health-care providers need to “transform the system,” acknowledging that the health care is “more challenged than ever before.” Whenever there’s a “safety, quality” issue that ends in tragedy, Lee said Surrey Memorial staff try to “learn from these experiences.”

The team has been meeting weekly, Lee added, to come up with solutions for resource challenges that have a “long history of where it came from in terms of infrastructure, of what’s available in Fraser versus neighbouring communities.” She said part of that solution is not looking at hospitals in silos.

“Especially now when medical services and clinical services are becoming much more specialized, we need to look at how do we provide that level of specialization in the communities that are neighbouring, not just in Surrey specifically, but across the Surrey community, across Fraser South and Fraser Health as a network of hospitals and services.”

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Click to play video: 'Women’s health providers at Surrey Memorial Hospital speak out'
Women’s health providers at Surrey Memorial Hospital speak out

Fraser Health is now seeking hospitalists — doctors who care for hospitalized patients after their admission — to backfill 18 shifts from Wednesday to the end of July, noting “congestion.”

The alarm bells raised by physicians this month are concerning to Gyani Narinder Singh Walia, president of Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey.

Surrey Memorial Hospital’s birthing unit is named after his mother, while the Guru Nanak Emergency Services Front Entrance is named for the founder of Sikhism.

“Under that name, people (are) dying,” he told Global News. “The system is failing so I think somewhere, we feel shame.”

When the Guru Nanak Emergency Services Front Entrance was named in 2007, the premier of the day, Gordon Campbell, said the name was a “fitting and lasting tribute to the dedication of the South Asian community to health care in this region.”

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In a news release, he and the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation recognized the millions raised by the community for the facility.

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