The entrance to the new ER at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

The entrance to the new ER at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Hallway medicine returns to Surrey Memorial Hospital

New state-of-the art ER is already congested, as patent visits jump 18% since its Oct. 1 opening.

Patients are once again being treated in the hallways of Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) just weeks after the opening of its state-of-the-art new emergency department that’s five times the size of the old one.

Administrators say the ER has seen a jump in patients of 16 to 18 per cent since it opened Oct. 1, and confirmed they are sometimes opening “non-traditional” treatment areas as a result.

“In the last day or so, we have had hallway patients, and as the flow improves, we will close those spaces down,” said SMH Executive Director Lakh Bagri, adding the ER is seeing 120 to 360 new patients arrive daily.

Congestion has plagued the hospital for years and spurred the province to launch the $512-million redevelopment – including the new ER and a Critical Care Tower that is still under construction and set to open next June.

The province also built the new Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre to shift day surgery and much testing out of SMH.

Officials had anticipated some patients who shunned SMH in the past would shift back when the new ER opened, and that it might even draw patients from other outlying hospitals.

Bagri said that now may be happening to some degree, based on what staff members are hearing.

“We’ve had some patients come in from as far away as Hope or Chilliwack to our emergency department,” he said.

Some may have been nearby already, Bagri said, but added more patients appear to be coming in part due to media coverage of the new ER.

“So we may be seeing patients in our emergency that we have not seen in the past.”

The Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation has estimated a 25-per-cent increase in ER patients since its opening on Oct. 1.

Bagri said that’s higher than the internal numbers he has seen and said it’s too early to declare the increase a trend or even be certain that it’s significant.

Patient visits routinely surge in the fall of each year with the onset of flu season and colder weather, he noted.

Fraser Health was unable to provide detailed statistics for patient counts at Surrey and other hospitals to compare whether outlying patients are now choosing SMH.

Nor were updated numbers available on the wait times for ER patients to get a bed.

“Generally speaking, the wait times are now shorter, but there have been situations where the wait time for an individual is just as long as it’s been in the past,” Bagri said.

“We’re seeing more sicker patients in the last few weeks than we have had over the summer,” he added. “That definitely has had an impact on the length of stay of patients.”

He said the eight-storey Critical Care Tower opening next year will bring 151 additional in-patient beds that should also help reduce hospital congestion.

But Bagri made no guarantee that will eliminate hallway medicine at SMH, adding it will depend on the number of patients who show up at any time as well as other factors such as the growth of the city and the aging and health of its population.