Fraser Health exec says Surrey Memorial ‘not in crisis’

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 Fraser Health Authority’s chief executive acknowledges there are challenges at area hospitals. However, she is stopping short of calling the situation a crisis — a word that has repeatedly come up from various frontline workers who have spoken out about conditions at Surrey Memorial.

“It’s not in crisis, we’re providing safe, good care to our patients that are coming through Surrey Memorial Hospital,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, who leads overall management at Fraser Health.

Lee says she’s worked in various countries and communities, some “without electricity to places with minimal level of service.”

“I would not compare those situations to Surrey Memorial Hospital, from my basic experience that I’ve had in those settings,” she told CityNews.

Her response comes after a doctor, whom CityNews granted anonymity to, made the comparison, not specifically to Surrey Memorial. They added the trauma bay at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) often has five patients requiring immediate help in areas meant for no more than three.

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Other sources have also told CityNews there is a lack of basic equipment in the emergency room at RCH, including items such as cardiac, blood pressure, and heart rate monitors.

Lee says she is not aware of any equipment shortage issues.

“I also know that every single year, we spend millions of dollars in replacing equipment, whether it’s as small as blood pressure cuffs to large CT machines. I’d have to go into assessing what the specific concern is about equipment,” she explained.

Lee’s comments also come after yet another group of health care workers at the SMH publish an open letter. This time, nearly three dozen doctors and midwives highlighted what they call a crisis in the family birthing unit. They described “unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes” at the hospital, with even a suggestion the situation has led to one newborn death.

Fraser Health has been regularly sending urgent emails to some doctors across the region asking them to help fill the staffing shortage at SMH, according to information obtained by CityNews.

The Fraser Health Authority has been sending urgent emails asking doctors to help at Surrey Memorial Hospital. (CityNews Image)

When asked about the potential knock-on effect on other hospitals with resources asked to fill in at SMH, Lee said staffing has been a challenge across the board — not just at one specific facility.

“Globally, there’s a gap. We know nationally there’s a significant gap. Provincially, there’s a gap, and we are working together on recruitment and retainment and redesign of our services, as well as bolstering in education and training to ensure that we are able to, not only add to current, but redesign services to do better,” she explained.

“I think that recruitment to try to fill those gaps as an immediate solution, but there’s lots of actions underway, specifically in expanding residency, expanding supports … there’s also been recruitment internationally, and we are also reaching out wherever possible to fill the gaps that we see. I think every time that we’ve done something like this, we have seen people come together to work collectively to address these concerns.”

Meanwhile, the Surrey Hospitals Foundation wrapped up a summit on issues at SMH Tuesday. The foundation promised to publish a report that includes some of the issues identified, along with recommendations to address those challenges.

With files from Sonia Aslam and Mike Lloyd

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show the doctor who spoke with CityNews anonymously was referring to RCH in suggestions of a “third world country.” 

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