With about a thousand new residents moving to the city each month, the population of Surrey is booming. Its growth rate is a whopping 10.6 per cent, outpacing both Vancouver and B.C., according to the latest census data. In fact, the City of Surrey says that by 2046, the city will have a population approaching one in four residents of Metro Vancouver. 

But one area of the city that has not kept pace with the frenetic growth is hospital services, particularly for young people and babies.

The Surrey Children's Health Centre located in Surrey Memorial Hospital is the busiest children's centre in the entire Fraser Health region. It also has the region’s only pediatric emergency department, but both the centre and the ER are stretched way beyond their intended capacity. Opened three years ago, the ER was meant to accommodate 20,000 kids annually, but last year it saw more than twice that amount – caring for 43,000 young people.

With one in three people in Surrey under the age of 19, and 43 per cent of B.C.’s kids living in the region, the need for expanded medical services for children is critical.

“The region has grown so quickly. Surrey’s population has increased by more than 50 per cent since our regional children’s centre was built in 2001, but the footprint and services haven’t,” said Surrey Hospital Foundation CEO Jane Adams.

What that means is thousands of families from Surrey and surrounding communities like Langley, White Rock, South Surrey, Delta and Abbotsford are forced to travel to Vancouver for follow up and specialist appointments, because they can’t access those services in their own region.

The result of those more than 50,000 visits into the city to see pediatric specialists in Vancouver? Extra stress and disruption for families, says Adams.

“Let’s face it: A 45 kilometre or more drive at the best of times is challenging and when your kid is sick it’s far from ideal,” she said.

With this in mind, a new campaign is aimed at making it possible for more children and families to get pediatric specialist care closer to home with major overhauls to the Surrey Children’s Health Centre. The Surrey Hospital Foundation is raising $6-million as part of a $15-million boost to completely renovate the existing footprint of the centre.

The first phase, starting April 2019, adds new treatment rooms, a new family waiting area with nourishment centre, plus more than a dozen outpatient clinic rooms, as the majority of kids need to come in on an ongoing basis. There’s also the creation of four to six daycare and surgical spaces. When the centre was first opened there were not many children’s surgeries – now it does about 1,200 annually.

“We don’t have any custom-built facilities. And that’s so critical because we want kids and their families to have a safe space for pre- and post-surgical care,” said Adams.

Seeing about 20 per cent of the new pediatric cancer cases in the province, the pediatric oncology clinic will also undergo a complete transformation in hopes of making it a more child- and family-friendly space. Patients will have access to natural light and a beautiful, custom-built play area, where families can come together in a tranquil and less clinical setting. Plus there will be a new family lounge and family kitchen.

This is especially important, as childhood cancer treatments can last for years – and be very intensive – so patients and their caregivers will be spending a lot of time in the environment.

“When you’re a cancer patient, the hospital becomes your home and the staff becomes your family. If you have to spend hours each week in a hospital it deserves to be in the friendliest, most child-friendly, happy space possible,” says Adams.

“If it’s a more healing environment, it helps keeps patients’ spirits up – and really has an impact on their well-being.”

The goal of the ambitious and expensive overhaul is simple: Keeping families closer to home. It’s a desire the hospital hears from the community on a daily basis, and they want to make it a reality. Because if a child is sick and you’re taking them to another city for treatment, that affects the whole family.

“They’re missing school and you need to take a day off and it affects your income,” said Adams.

“If you’re treated in your own city it reduces absenteeism in kids at school.”

Right now, Surrey has 11 specialized pediatricians. It’s double the number it had decade ago, but there’s no more space in the centre to increase the amount of clinics. As new inpatient beds and clinic spaces are opened, the hospital hopes to accommodate thousands more children and add to its staffing complement, including orthopedic and GI specialists.

With the City of Surrey projecting the population to increase by another 262,000 people in the next three decades, the hospital upgrades can’t come soon enough. Although medical teams at the Children’s Health Centre have adapted and become resourceful at delivering service in smaller spaces, Adams says everyone is looking forward to the expansion so its pediatric team can care for more children -- and nurture the bright future for young people in Surrey.

“Our hospital and foundation is so grateful. We will use the money to make the greatest benefit to the community,” said Adams. “We’re so excited.”

To donate to the Surrey Hospital Foundation’s Children’s Health Centre renewal campaign, click here.