New prescription needed
A ‘topping off’ ceremony, indicating that the eight-storey critical care tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital is about a year away from completion, took place Monday.
The new tower will add 151 badly-needed beds to the major hospital in Surrey, including 48 beds for neonatal intensive care. High-risk children’s cases will be more easily dealt with, in a community with a very high proportion of young people. It will also create 650 health-related jobs.
Sadly, this expansion comes nowhere close to meeting the needs of the fast-growing Surrey and North Delta areas, and the wider region that SMH serves as a referral hospital for some types of medical procedures. Retiring Surrey-Tynehead MLA Dave Hayer put it most succinctly in his comments, contained in a press release about the ceremony. Hayer, who was first elected in 2001 as part of a BC Liberal government that had 77 of 79 seats (including every Surrey seat), said he has been working on SMH expansion from the moment of his election. After he steps down next May, the needs will be just as great.
Surrey is the fastest-growing city in B.C. by a wide margin. A steady supply of schools, hospitals and other community facilities is needed to keep up with this breakneck growth. The provincial government, Metro Vancouver, TransLink, the city and the federal government all have a role to play in helping the city keep up.
But many needs are not being met in an even close to timely fashion – health care being one of them. The new Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre, located on the former Green Timbers nursery property, has been a big help, but it is already busy.
Health care is changing rapidly. Medicine is far more advanced than ever, and procedures that lengthen lives and help fix important components of the body such as the heart, lungs, hips and knees are much more widespread. But they are expensive, as are many new drugs.
The aging population also adds to the demand. Even though Surrey is a young community in comparison to many B.C. cities, it has a large number of seniors as well. They often need much more complex and expensive medical treatment.
SMH now deals with far more critical cases than it used to. The days when one could have routine surgery and stay there for three days, as I did in the 1970s, are long gone.
As a result, the facilities must be able to deal with more critical issues. The level of training of the staff must be much higher. There must be a very different approach to health care.
Unlike the 1970s and 1980s, the hospital is now part of the much-larger Fraser Health region. While the region has been able to find many efficiencies, it does so at a high cost. The bureaucracy in Fraser Health is byzantine. Even something as simple as a media inquiry is made unduly complicated, and the region seems to use this bureaucracy to its advantage, in keeping details of its day-to-day operations from the public – deliberately or otherwise.
The structure of health-care administration should really be irrelevant. What is important is that health care is available to people when they really need it. For the most part, that is the case in Surrey. But waits at emergency are far too lengthy. The new tower will have a larger emergency and perhaps that will ease waits.
Waits for routine tests and screening are often far too long. And many surgery waiting lists are unacceptably long.
Ever since Surrey Memorial Hospital first opened back in 1958, it has strived to offer good health care to residents. For the most part, it has succeeded. Many people have benefited from its presence in the community.
But the provincial government in particular must ensure that Surrey gets a large share of future hospital expansion dollars. This community is not going to stop growing, and we have been playing catch up from the day SMH opened. Surrey is just as important a part of B.C. as any other community, and must get the services that people need in times of sickness.
Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock will also need significant expansion and additional services. It serves a good portion of Surrey, one that is rapidly growing. While it will never be on the scale of SMH, its services remain just as vital.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.