Surrey Memorial ‘crisis’ highlights need for creative solutions: doctor

More than a week after emergency room doctors released a letter describing what they say is a crisis in their unit, we’re hearing from patients about their experience at the ER. Angela Bower has the story.

The emergency room doctor who went public with his concerns about Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) is calling for creative hiring solutions to address the problem.

Dr. Urbain Ip’s revelations this week about his assessment of conditions at SMH came as deeply concerning to many people, and calls for action at the hospital are growing.

While he acknowledges SMH can’t fill the house doctor or hospitalist gap, he feels there could be other options.

“Get some NPs here, nurse practitioners to come to the hospital and assist the doctor to take care of the patient. We have to think [outside] the box,” he told OMNI News.

“Maybe there are other solutions than doctors. There is physician assistants that we don’t have in this province, maybe we need a physician assistant program.”

Related articles: 

Dr. Joshua Greggain, president of Doctors of BC, agrees more staff are urgently needed, and says he’s supportive of some of these creative suggestions.

“It again speaks to the fact that, yes, I think we’re at a precipice in time where we need all hands on deck. Those hands may have been doing something else and need to be in the system, like physician’s assistants or associate positions, which have not, until recently, been considered. And we need other parts of the system to help accommodate for it,” he explained.

Ip says the ER is “extremely distressed about this situation.” He explains even in scenarios when a patient is treated by an emergency doctor, concerns follow.

“That’s extremely, extremely problematic for us. The emergency room physicians, when they finish their shift, let’s say they admitted five, six patients, they are going home worried. They’re going home worried because they don’t know if their patient is going to be taken care of. They are the last doctor to see the patient. If the patient deteriorates, they blame themselves — of course, the patient doesn’t know, the family doesn’t know the system — you’re the last one to see them. If something happened, who’s at fault? Who takes the fault?” Ip said.

On a broader scale, Greggain tells CityNews emergency room challenges are happening across B.C. — in small, medium, and large hospitals.

As the province looks to add to staffing, he says B.C. also needs a robust primary care system to complement the emergency/hospital system.

“Both of those scenarios are backlogged, which is why a simple addition of a few more people isn’t going to exclusively solve the problem,” he said.

B.C. doing the work to fill vacancies: Dix

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province is actively working to address the issue, adding it’s in negotiations with additional staff to fill some of the hospitalist vacancies.

“And we’re dealing with issues around hospitalists around B.C., and we’re working through the issues with them face to face equally,” he said in an interview with OMNI News Friday, noting challenges are being felt across the province, not just at SMH.

Surrey Memorial has been in the headlines for weeks since a group of doctors published an open letter calling the situation at the hospital a crisis.

In that letter, the physicians said they felt “compelled to inform the public of the unsafe conditions that have come to exist in our hospital,” adding “what has been told to the community is incomplete.”

The group went on to say Dix was “correct” in his previous characterization that health conditions in the province are challenging, but add an important point is missing — “patients are dying preventable deaths at SMH.”

the outside of the surrey memorial hosptial. A surrey doctor is calling for more er resources after a teen was stabbed and taken to a nearby hostpial but not the closest one

Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency. (CityNews Image)

Dix says with an increase in procedures, population growth, and a return to life post-pandemic, “we have, objectively, more people in hospital right now and more visitors to the emergency room.”

“We have been putting resources in and we’re going to have to do more. With respect to hospitalist contracts, they’ve got to get up to date, and that’s one of the issues that clearly helps you recruit as well. So we’re doing that work with hospitalists right now … We’re in the midst of making real progress on the family doctor issue, and equally on the recruitment of nurses issue. We didn’t solve these issues by working by ourselves, we did it by working with the doctors, and we’re doing that with the hospitalists in Fraser Health right now,” he explained.

Greggain tells CityNews the big issue in Surrey is that the challenges outlined are nothing new.

“This has been building for months, if not years. With regards to human health resources, the resources available in Surrey versus the population, and just the continual struggles they’re having plays out in the emergency room, in the hospital, in the community, in the long-term care facilities, in the urgent care centres. But, really, the canary right now is, in fact, the emergency room,” he explained.

Opposition calls for more action

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon spoke with reporters outside Surrey Memorial Friday. He said there continues to be “a lack of acute care beds” in Surrey, while other jurisdictions have more.

He says there’s a great need for “more hospitalists … to be able to take care of the patients that are coming through the busiest emergency departments in Canada.”

“They should absolutely be free to talk about it,” Falcon said of the doctors sounding the alarm. “We cannot have a situation where they are not able to speak their truth, especially when it comes down to the interest of patient health.”

The opposition leader is urging the health authority to “back off,” adding the public needs to understand what’s happening in the health system.

Meanwhile, when it comes to solutions and timelines, Greggain says the answer is not simple.

He adds any work will need to be collaborative, involving the province and stakeholders, including doctors and others on the frontlines.

“There isn’t a ‘we flip the switch and this all goes away.’ It really is going to take a collective effort from ministry, our physicians on the ground, the nurses, the administrators at Surrey and all the other hospitals, for everyone to play a role,” he said. “It’s not just about how do we get back to normal, it’s about how do we provide exceptional care for the patients of British Columbia, specifically in Surrey right now, but also across the province.”

With files from Angela Bower and OMNI News

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today