Surrey Memorial Hospital Women’s Health workers pen open letter to the public

The Surrey Hospital Foundation is holding a summit on the ongoing crisis at the hospital. This comes as Women’s Health workers at SMH pen an open letter to the public, detailing ongoing issues in their department, Sarah Chew reports.

Women’s Health workers at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) have penned an open letter to locals, detailing ongoing issues surrounding their department.

“We, the Women’s Health providers at Surrey Memorial Hospital, wish to articulate our deep concern regarding the crisis caused by chronic and pervasive under-resourcing which has led to unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes in our hospital,” reads an introductory excerpt from the letter.

This comes less than two weeks after SMH emergency room doctors issued an open letter of their own, detailing a “crisis” at the facility involving what they call “unsafe conditions” in the workplace. Women’s Health providers say this letter comes “both in support and response” to the initial letter.

Women’s Health workers weren’t shy about assigning blame either, pointing at multiple levels of healthcare administration in the region.

“We view it as our duty to our patients and community stakeholders to disclose the significant challenges we currently face which are predominantly rooted in the inaction of Fraser Health’s executive administration, the Board of Directors, and the Ministry of Health.”

The letter was separated into three key areas under duress in the hospital’s Women’s Health sector, explaining issues in the Family Birthing Unit, limited access to operating rooms, and a crisis in terms of available resources.

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In the Family Birthing Unit, Women’s Health workers say they currently have a shortage of supervised beds because of a lack of space and resources.

They explain SHM’s birthing unit has just 6 antepartum beds, 32 laboring beds, and 16 postpartum beds even though they serve a larger population than Vancouver. Women’s Health workers suggest this is an issue because Vancouver’s BC Women’s Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital have a combined total of 13 antepartum beds, 47 laboring beds, and 35 postpartum beds, amounting to nearly double what SHM has to offer.

“Ten years ago the unit was built for 4000 deliveries per year. We now do 6000 and the number of beds that have gone up is approximately four. So that obviously falls short, we’re already falling behind,” said Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss, Co-lead of Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at SMH.

Among other issues in the Family Birthing Unit are; a lack of privacy for mothers during and after childbirth, a scarcity of several resources, and an outdated facility that doesn’t accommodate a growing local population.

“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 practice of regularly relying on transferring of patients outside of their own community represents inappropriate care and is a symptom of a broken system.”

Regarding issues faced by SMH gynecologists, Women’s Health workers say they have “extremely limited access to the operating room.”

They explain SMH has a total of 10 operating rooms, and usually, only eight or nine can be used due to staffing shortages or renovations. This causes much longer wait times for gynecology-related operations, they say 77 per cent longer than a provincial healthcare benchmark set for wait times.

“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,” the letter reads.

Finally, they point to a “lack of adequate action” taken by industry leadership over the last five years, resulting in a major shortage of available resources.

“As this issue remains unaddressed the crisis is likely to escalate further … our leaders and the provincial government fail to deliver much-needed capital investment and expansion of physical space at SMH.”

Women’s Health workers say they’ve attempted to get the word out before, in the form of a letter written alongside another department in 2022. They say this past letter detailed how much worse things were going to get, but add no true solutions were brought forward.

Lastly, they point to the decision to use a new Cloverdale Hospital as a solution doing “nothing to address” issues currently faced in SMH’s Women’s Health department, even adding they believe it will “halt any substantial investment” they could receive, and set the department “back by decades.”

Women’s Health workers add the lack of resources is at least partially to blame for “one neonatal death,” meaning the death of a baby in the first four weeks of its life.

Dr. Storness-Bliss hopes residents from Surrey and across the Fraser Health region will respond to the letter, giving voice to their cause and demanding change.

“We deserve to get standard, excellent care in Surrey. We deserve to deliver our babies in Surrey,” she said.

B.C.’s Health Minister didn’t comment on the issue when approached by CityNews, instead deferring to Fraser Health.

Fraser Health says it is working on addressing shortages affecting regional hospitals, as well as meeting Surrey Memorial’s growing needs.

“I appreciate the frustration when it feels like we can do better work for our patients than the current context… that change will take time but it’s not going to be without bumps along the way and I think that’s where we are at today,” said Victoria Lee, CEO and President of Fraser Health.

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