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

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

People in Metro Vancouver can expect to experience a short wave of heat just in time for Father’s Day, according to Environment Canada. (Black Press Media files)
Short-lived heatwave headed for Metro Vancouver this weekend

Temperatures are expected to be up to 10 degrees higher than average Sunday and Monday

Most Read