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Putting Surrey Memorial Hospital's ER on diversion may be the only 'responsible recourse,' staff letter says

Frontline health-care workers at Surrey Memorial Hospital say the emergency room should be shut down to new patients if staff shortages continue to create "perilous" conditions for people in need of urgent care.

In a letter provided to CTV News Tuesday, the Medical Staff Association at the Fraser Health region's largest hospital says it has become difficult and near impossible to provide adequate care due to a shortage of physicians that leaders failed to plan for, and continue to fail in responding to.

"We write this letter not from a place of animosity or retribution, but as people entrusted with advocating for the right of our patients to timely, equitable, high-quality healthcare when they are the most sick and in need of this service. Your continued silence and inaction on this issue is placing the health and well-being of Surrey residents in jeopardy," it reads.

"We implore you to take immediate action to bolster the availability of hospitalists physicians to the ER at SMH and if you cannot do this the only responsible recourse is to place the Surrey Memorial Hospital ER on diversion."

Emergency doctors, the letter says, are being forced to practice outside of their scope by tending to patients in the ER and patients who have been admitted.

"It should come as no surprise then to anyone paying attention that patient care is being compromised, patients are deteriorating, and the number of preventable deaths are rising in our overcrowded and understaffed ER," the letter continues.

SMH is the largest in the region, servicing more than 160,000 ER visits a year.

A closure would have a widespread effect.

Earlier this week, dozens of obstetricians and gynecologists also issued a letter saying the hospital was in crisis.

The document says staffing shortages have led to an untold number of close calls and even the death of a newborn baby.

According to the group, patients often lack access to effective pain management and don't receive necessary privacy during or after childbirth.

Surrey Memorial was built to accommodate 4,000 births per year, but the average is now at 6,000.

"Some outcomes are preventable and those are the ones that are really taking a toll on people. I'm seeing people go part time, leaving labour and delivery entirely,” said Claudine Storness-Bliss, an obstetrician-gynecologist who signed the open letter.

The president and CEO of Fraser Health Authority says a review is underway in the case of the infant death, but provided no further details.

"We are at a point where we do need to transform our care and a big part of that is change, and with change it's not going to be seamless or smooth,” said Dr. Victoria Lee.

She is set to meet with Dix on Wednesday.


The letters issued this week are the latest to shed light on the crisis unfolding in the emergency departments at Fraser Health's hospitals.

Emergency doctors at the sister hospitals of Royal Columbian and Eagle Ridge have sent an open letter warning their community of “the critical situation that is currently creating risk for our patients and undermining our ability to provide timely and safe, quality care” that has left them “at a breaking point.”

They say patients who need admission to hospital for further treatment are waiting up to 72 hours in chairs or hallways, “negatively affecting patient care, putting patients at risk of unnecessary harm” due to the shortage of hospitalist doctors and nurses.

They are strikingly similar to the concerns raised by Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors last week, who say patients have died while waiting for care. Another doctor has urged his colleagues to advise patients to avoid Langley Memorial Hospital, which he described as “near collapse.”

On Tuesday, the health authority announced it has begun providing online information about wait times and posted a statement to its website apologizing for delays in access to care.

"We are experiencing higher patient volumes right now, coupled with hospitalist medicine and human resources challenges," an update on the health authority's website says.

"We are working to support our patients moving through the emergency departments in the safest and fastest way possible to reduce emergency department congestion."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Penny Daflos, Abigail Turner and Regan Hasegawa. Top Stories

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