COLUMN: Urgent need for urgent-care centres south of the Fraser

First urgent-care facility to be near Surrey Memorial Hospital, but more are needed

Premier John Horgan announced Thursday that Surrey will be the location of the first in a series of urgent-care centres.

The centres were promised by the NDP during last year’s election campaign, and are an important step in the right direction. They are part of a broader focus on primary care, which calls for a more team-based approach.

The idea behind the centres is to provide quicker access to health care, take pressure off hospital emergency wards and connect more people with professionals who can keep track of their health history.

This first urgent-care centre, expected in the fall, will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. When fully staffed, it will be able to handle 1,300 patients per week. It will be integrated into a network of health-care services, making followup easier. It will be geared towards people who do not have a family doctor.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the urgent-care centres will allow more people to get family doctors. Another government initiative calls for the hiring of 200 family doctors, 200 nurse practitioners and 50 clinical pharmacists. One of six B.C. residents does not have a family doctor. In Surrey alone, the number is about 78,000 people.

The government plans to open 10 urgent-care centres in the next year. While it will undoubtedly open them in various parts of the province, a strong case can be made for opening at least two more in the South Fraser region. If that does not happen in the first wave, hopefully it can be considered after the first 10.

The first Surrey urgent-care centre in the South Fraser region will be located at 9639 137A St., just steps from Surrey Memorial Hospital. SMH has the busiest emergency room in the province, and despite a number of expansion projects in the past decade, lengthy wait times remain.

There are many pressing needs in North Surrey. Not the least is dealing with people who have drug and alcohol addictions, and with many homeless people in the area. The emphasis on a team-based approach works well with many of the existing services in the area.

While this location makes sense given the plethora of medical services nearby, there needs to be at least two others in the region.

One should be in Newton or North Delta. The Newton area is the most-populated region of Surrey, and North Delta residents mainly use Surrey Memorial Hospital’s ER. An urgent-care centre that is more centrally located there would take pressure off SMH.

Another urgent-care centre needs to be located in the fast-growing Cloverdale area. SMH is a fair distance from Cloverdale, and this prompts many residents of that community to go to Langley Memorial Hospital or Peace Arch Hospital for treatment. While there is a plan to expand LMH’s crowded emergency room, the expansion project will not be complete for several years.

All of these factors again show how badly underserved the entire South Fraser region is when it comes to health services.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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