Surrey Memorial Hospital's new emergency check-in area.

Surrey Memorial Hospital's new emergency check-in area.

Widespread hospital congestion compromising patients, BCNU charges

Fraser Health CEO denies problem is major, says more nurses have been hired

The B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU) says overflowing emergency rooms, including the newly opened ER at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH), are causing long waits and compromising patient care.

In a press conference in Coquitlam Thursday, the union claimed that in Surrey last week, patients were lined up in the hallways and at one point, one nurse was caring for 11 patients. The ratio, said the BCNU, should be one nurse to four stable patients.

There were also claims a patient with the highly contagious MRSA superbug was wandering around the ER hallway at Royal Columbian, and a dying man was read his last rites in a hallway at Eagle Ridge Hospital.

“This is not safe or appropriate patient care,” said BCNU president Debra McPherson.

Lakh Bagri, executive director at SMH, said Wednesday the number of patients being seen in the new emergency department in Surrey had jumped 16 to 18 per cent since it opened Oct. 1.

He said some visitors might be being drawn to the new facility from outlying hospitals, or  have simply returned to their local hospital following media coverage of the opening.

He noted patient visits routinely surge in the fall when the weather gets colder and more viruses begin to circulate.

McPherson said the troubles do not stem from a “sudden spike” in visits.

“These hospitals have been dealing with chaos for the weeks and months – and in Surrey – since the day the new ER opened.”

The BCNU, which represents about 40,000 nurses and allied health care employees, said nurse-to-patient ratios have increased steadily due to unfilled staffing vacancies.

One nurse at SMH who didn’t want to be named called the situation of late a “nightmare.” She said some staff are so overwhelmed, they’ve been reduced to tears and have threatened to quit.

McPherson said the union wants a long-term solution to chronic overcrowding problems.

“Fraser Health officials need to get out of their board rooms and see the chaos in the ERs,” said McPherson. “There aren’t enough funded beds, staffing levels are grossly inadequate and it’s having a significant impact on safe patient care.”

Congestion plagued SMH for years, prompting the $512-million redevelopment of the ER, which is now five times the size it used to be and includes a Critical Care Tower set to open in June.

SMH’s ER sees between 120 and 360 patients arrive daily.

Fraser Health CEO Nigel Murray said the new eight-storey tower at SMH will bring 151 additional in-patient beds that should help.

He denied congestion is currently a crisis in Fraser Health.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a major problem,” Murray said. “We always have bursts of congestion. We had some at Abbotsford and that has settled down a little bit although it’s higher than I’d like it to be.”

Congestion isn’t optimal, he said, but it’s a reality of the health system and underscores the need to ensure patients leave hospital when they’re ready to go.

He said Fraser Health has added 1,000 nurses over the past three years and invested $10 million in specialized nurse training.

Murray said Surrey Memorial may be drawing more patients that used to go to other hospitals, but it’s too early to say for sure.

“I think it’s just the newness factor,” he said. “People think it’s an opportunity to get care promptly and in a new environment. I don’t blame them.”

Murray also noted the new SMH ER has B.C.’s first dedicated children’s emergency department outside of B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Emergency visits by children to SMH are up 50 per cent since the opening, he said.

Murray speculated that many parents, particularly those in areas like Surrey and Langley, who in the past might have driven to Vancouver to get what they perceived to be the best care for their sick kid are now going to SMH.

– with files from Jeff Nagel

Just Posted

PlanCultus was adopted in 2017 as a guiding document for Cultus Lake Park. (Cultus Lake Park Board)
More affordable housing options could be coming to Cultus Lake Park

Online survey opened on June 14 to gauge opinion on plaza redevelopment eyed for Village Centre

The Abbotsford International Airshow is back for 2021 with the ‘SkyDrive’ concept.
Abbotsford International Airshow returns for 2021 with ‘SkyDrive’

New format features a drive-in movie type experience, show set for Aug. 6 to 8

A young couple walks through the Othello Tunnels just outside of Hope. (Jessica Peters/Black Press)
Hope’s Othello Tunnels fully open to the public

Geological testing proved the area safe enough to open for the first time in more than a year

Raeya Evie Duncan was the 100th baby born at Chilliwack General Hospital for the month of May. She is seen here with her parents Alysha Williams and Andrew Duncan on June 12, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Baby boom in Chilliwack as record number of infants born at CGH in May

‘COVID babies are coming out,’ says dad of 100th baby born at Chilliwack General Hospital last month

Syringes prepared with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Long Beach, Calif., Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Walk-ins welcome at upcoming G.W. Secondary vaccine clinic

Second consecutive Saturday Fraser Health has scheduled a same-day clinic in a Chilliwack school

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

Ocean debris is shown on Long Beach in Tofino, B.C. on April, 18, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

Cover of the 32-page Surrey First Peoples Guide for Newcomers, created and compiled by Jeska Slater.
New ‘Surrey First Peoples Guide for Newcomers’ seeks to ‘uplift and amplify’ voices

32-page guide launched Tuesday by Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP)

West Coast Duty Free president Gary Holowaychuk stands next to empty shelves inside his store on Tuesday (June 15). (Aaron Hinks photo)
Revenue down 97% at Surrey duty free as owner waits for U.S. border to reopen

Products approaching best before dates had to be donated, others destroyed

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Most Read