The B.C. Nurses' Union says there's an overcrowding crisis at Surrey Memorial Hospital, even though the provincial government is sinking $492 million into the hospital's new facilities.

The overcrowding problem was supposed to be solved when the hospital's emergency room was expanded in October — the size of three NHL ice rinks — to help cope with an estimated 100,000 patient visits every year.

On Monday the hospital's new critical care tower had its grand opening, but photos taken the same day show patients still being treated in the hallway outside the ER.

"It's crazy. Yesterday they had eight hallway patients. They had 67 admits and up to 29 people in the waiting room. It's been really chaotic," said Gail Conlin, a B.C. Nurses' Union steward.

The upgrade, which is still not completed, has come at a total cost of $512 million and is being paid for jointly by the province, the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation and Child Health BC.

But the union claims the new tower and the expansion of the emergency room haven't helped with the backlog, resulting in disturbing incidents and close calls in the ER.

Conlin describes one incident in which a patient with a life threatening brain bleed was not given a trauma bed because there wasn't one available.

In another case, she says, a man came in to the ER at 3 p.m. PT, and four hours later, while still waiting to be treated, had a seizure.

Hallway treatment 'very infrequent'

The union insists there hasn't been a surge in patients lately, but Fraser Health disagrees, saying they now deal with close to 400 ER patients a day, or around 146,000 a year, compared to about 260 per day, a little over a year ago.

Lakh Baghri, Executive Director at Surrey Memorial Hospital, says patients aren't treated in hallways very often.

"It's very infrequent. I'd like to say since the opening of the new emergency department, it's become very infrequent. But again, you can't predict a surge."

The new critical care tower has added 151 beds, which Fraser Health says will help ease some of the backlog the ER is facing.

Patients and their families — like Melissa Bailey whose brother is an ER patient — say the overall improvements to the hospital have made a difference.

"We've used the new facility before for other things and it's a lot faster than it used to be. It's clear and a lot more organized," said Bailey.

Emergency room overcrowding is a long-running issue at Surrey Memorial Hospital and in November last year, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake ordered a full review of Fraser Health Authority.

The review is expected to be completed by the end of June and will be made public soon afterwards.