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Surrey Memorial Hospital crisis: Fraser Health asks other regions for staff

On the heels of a series of town halls with staff, Fraser Health is assessing its hospital network to see who can spare staff for Surrey Memorial Hospital, while asking other health authorities for help.

The hospital has been overwhelmed by patients for months, with the crisis intensifying and doctors increasingly speaking up about patients waiting up to three days in the emergency department, with the maternity ward dealing with countless “close calls.

“We've had callouts to other health authorities to see if there's specific gaps that can be filled,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health CEO, noting they’ve sent help when others needed it during the pandemic.

She also clarified a statement made by the health minister on Wednesday announcing the activation of an “Emergency Operations Centre,” a misnomer that’s actually a state of emergency alert within the hospital: the EOC was activated two months ago and daily meetings are held to prioritize staff and expedite patients. 

What has changed is the involvement of Health Emergency Management BC and other provincial agencies to help coordinate services, draw on a broader array of resources, and potentially supply more people.


Sources tell CTV News the summer schedule, which is typically booked months in advance, has far fewer staff committed to shifts than they need to maintain even the current, insufficient level of care.

“It feels bad now and it's scary to think about what it could be like if we have further physicians leaving for good reason,” said internal medicine specialist and Medical Staff Association president, Dr. Roopjeet Kahlon.

Doctors at Surrey Memorial Hospital have been increasingly vocal about what they call unsafe conditions due to a staffing crisis that “was foreseen” but ignored, they say, despite numerous letters and alarms raised with administrators and senior health authority leadership.

“The situation in our ER can be compared to a pandemic-level crisis and it requires the same kind of effort,” said Kahlon, pointing out that Fraser Health has been under-resourced for years, which was highlighted in a recent board of trade analysis.

Despite its rapid growth, Surrey’s hospital has to send patients with gunshot wounds or other traumatic injuries across the river to Royal Columbian Hospital, which also has the closest cardiac facilities. 

The health minister has blamed the previous Liberal government for under-serving the community, which is true, but the Surrey Hospitals Foundation combed through financial reports and found on a per capita basis, Fraser Health residents see $2,229 per year in provincial funding compared to $3,033 for Vancouver Coastal Health residents. 

“It's like tying our hands and telling us to go do excellent work, it’s an unfair expectation,” added Kahlon. “The system is failing, but the physician is asked to continue to provide high-quality care to the patient and the public.”


Lee described a positive dialogue with physicians at a series of town halls she held at Surrey Memorial on Wednesday, which several attendees have confirmed to CTV News.

“I don't believe there's one solution that's going to fix, or that's going to actually problem-solve,” said Lee. “We need to come together with a multitude of system-wide solutioning.”

But Lee did not describe the situation as a “crisis” and doctors and nurses alike have voiced frustration and dismay that neither Fraser Health leadership nor the health minister have used that word publicly. 

That has Kahlon echoing the sentiments of her peers, who “haven't really felt there's been an appreciation of the severity of the seriousness of the situation on the ground.” Top Stories

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