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Letter calls out resource crisis at Surrey hospital: 1 newborn death, ‘countless misses’

Letters demand funding and resources for Surrey Memorial Hospital

An open letter from over 35 women’s health physicians and midwives is expressing concern for “unsafe conditions and adverse outcomes” at Surrey Memorial Hospital – including accusations that these gaps led to a newborn death.

The letter, which was published on Scribd and later taken down, underlines three critical issues impacting women’s health that they believe require immediate action: Lack of resources in the birthing unit, need for more supervised beds and a need for more operating rooms.

“We view it as our duty to our patients and community stakeholders to disclose the significant challenges we currently face, which are predominately rooted in the inaction of Fraser Health’s executive administrator, the Board of Directors, and the Ministry of Health,” the group said.

The letter goes on to say that the strain on resources is preventing teams from “delivering care that is required and expected, directly resulting in poor outcomes which fall sharply below the standard for a tertiary level maternity care centre in our province.”

In addition to the death of a newborn, the group says there has been “countless near misses, and moral injury to our care providers.”

The group is calling for more supervised beds in the family birthing unit, “due to insufficient space and lack of nursing resources.”

The letter points out the disparity of resources between the Surrey and Vancouver regions.

Vancouver currently has two hospitals that provide obstetrical care with 13 antepartum care beds, 47 labouring beds and 35 postpartum beds between the two of them.

The family birthing unit in Surrey serves a population larger than Vancouver, the letter states, and only has six antepartum beds in shared rooms, 32 labouring beds and 16 postpartum beds.

The birthing unit often diverts patients to other hospitals for care as they lack space.

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The group goes on to say that gynecologists are facing limited access to the operating rooms. The letter states that the surgical wait times posted are inaccurate.

“Year-to-date wait times for surgery at SMH are 23% longer than benchmark (the maximum amount of time that clinical evidence shows is appropriate to wait for a particular procedure).”

“The gynecology service average wait times are 77% longer than the benchmark.”

These long wait times put women in Surrey at a higher risk of significant pelvic disease, the group says. While the hospital has 10 operating rooms, often only eight or nine are in use due to under-staffing or renovations.

“In addition, there is a shortage of acute care in-patient beds, as articulated by our emergency room colleagues, which forces cancellations of any surgery requiring a patient to be admitted to the hospital,” the letter reads.

The final point addresses a lack of action taken by leaders at the hospital, Fraser Health and the provincial government.

“We have sounded the alarm loud and clear for that length of time without seeing meaningful action.”

A year ago, the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Anesthesia sent an open letter about the challenges their units were facing and the changes that needed to be made.

The implemented solutions require “nursing staff and physicians to take on greater workload and cut corners which has resulted in negative patient experience and poor outcomes.”

“The end result of this perfect storm is, not surprisingly, dismal. Patients are not receiving the care they should expect at a tertiary (specialized) care centre, putting them at risk of greater morbidity and need for further interventions. This has detrimental effects on patients’ health and significant increases in adverse events.”

The new Cloverdale hospital has no plan to add obstetric or gynecological care, according to the group. They feel the new hospital is “deeply misguided” and “will halt any substantial investment in women’s Health in our region, setting us back by decades.”

The group ended the letter with calling for community members to call for change regionally and provincially.

“This letter is a call to action for patients from Burnaby to Boston Bar to demand funding and resources at SMH and across Fraser that is equivalent to our neighbours in Vancouver.”

The Now-Leader has reached out to Fraser Health for a response.

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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