British Columbia

Health minister announces expansion of services at beleaguered Surrey Memorial Hospital

Surrey Memorial has been at the centre of the province's health-care crisis, with physicians speaking out about chronic understaffing and over-crowding

Priorities include hiring more staff for the emergency department, maternity ward and mental health services

A man wearing glasses speaks in front of lab coats in the background.
Health Minister Adrian Dix at an announcement in Vancouver on Jan. 9. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has announced a number of improvements at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) with an immediate focus on a new contract for hospitalists, along with hiring more staff for the emergency department, maternity ward and mental health services. 

Dix also promised enhanced cardiac diagnostic services and renal care and dialysis at SMH within 18 months. Urgent Primary Care Centres in Surrey will also be expanding their hours, he said.

The announcement comes amid a crisis at SMH, highlighted in the last month by dozens of doctors speaking out about chronic understaffing, underfunding and congestion that has pushed the hospital to the breaking point. 

News of the improvements were welcomed by the B.C. Nurses' Union, with a caveat. 

"It is the responsibility of Fraser Health to ensure today's phased action plan is implemented as soon as possible," said the BCNU in a statement. 

"We will be following up with our members to monitor the extent to which these new measures are actually improving working conditions and providing the relief the emergency department needs in order to provide the level of care patients deserve."

The BCNU said the government needs to also address the crisis in patient care at other acute-care emergency centres in the province.

For Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss, co-lead at SMH's obstetrics and gynecology department, the announcement is a big win for the Surrey community and Fraser Health region.

Storness-Bliss and over 30 OBGYN doctors at SMH signed a letter in May saying a critical lack of resources is compromising patient safety, resulting in an untold number of close calls and the death of a newborn in 2020. 

 "We as a group, as OBGYNs, are very thankful for the opportunity to have our voices heard ... and we are grateful for a quick response, which is really what we were after," Storness-Bliss told CBC's On The Coast. 

"Restructuring a hospital is not a small feat ... I'm very much looking forward to working with Fraser Health and the Ministry [of Health] in terms of developing a service action plan."

A blonde woman in a white dress is pictured outside in an urban area on a sunny day.
Dr. Claudine Storness-Bliss, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Surrey Memorial Hospital, says doctors are ready to create a plan of short term and long term changes to address critical issues. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dix to tour B.C. hospitals

Dix said he will be touring hospitals in B.C. during the summer to hear about the challenges facing health-care workers and leaders.

Surrey is the fastest-growing city in B.C., gaining 100,000 new residents every decade. It is set to surpass Vancouver as the largest city by population by the end of the decade.

Groundbreaking for a second Surrey hospital is supposed to take place in July, according to Dix. The new $1.7 billion facility and cancer centre is located in Cloverdale.

Wednesday's announcement comes a week after Dix met with doctors in the Fraser Health region, which includes Surrey.

Dr. Urbain Ip, leading emergency room physician at Surrey Memorial, said last month issues in the emergency room have him and his colleagues regularly going home "worried sick" about their patients.

"Right now, if my loved one got sick, I'm not sure if I would send [them] to my hospital ... and that's a terrible thing to feel," said Ip, an emergency doctor for more than 30 years.

A letter from the association representing SMH doctors said health-care leaders shouldn't allow any more new patients into Surrey Memorial's ER unless critical staff vacancies can be filled.

Dix was flanked by Fraser Health CEO Victoria Lee and board chair Jim Sinclair during the announcement at Surrey Memorial on Wednesday.