EDITORIAL: Doubt where none should exist

Maternity ward bombshell could have been defused by better communication

Fraser Health’s bombshell announcement Jan. 14 that it was planning to close Peace Arch Hospital’s maternity ward for a “temporary diversion” to Langley could have been defused by much better communication.

No doubt concern for the safety of expectant mothers and their babies – without assurance that sufficient pediatric staff would be on hand in case of complicated births – was a major factor in what Fraser Health president and CEO Victoria Lee termed a “difficult decision” to divert maternity patients to Langley.

And, as has been pointed out, such diversions have been standard practice for Fraser Health when staffing in various departments at hospitals has fallen below the required minimums.

But anyone who knew the White Rock-South Surrey community – and its history of intense commitment to a maternity ward at Peace Arch Hospital – would have realized that such an announcement was a ‘hot potato.’

Coming as it did – late on a Friday afternoon – it was guaranteed to fuel community alarm, and ramp-up speculation that it was merely a prelude to a permanent closure.

Worse, the announcement was evidently a reaction to questions from media when concerned individuals in-the-know sounded an alarm bell. The sudden reversal of the decision days later, in the context of public dismay, also seems highly reactive.

Had the questions not been asked, would Fraser Health have volunteered the information? And when would it have been shared with those most affected?

The news media are well aware of the communications strategy – often employed by embattled government departments when there is bad news to deliver – of waiting until the end of the working day on a Friday before issuing a release.

That this was the timing in this case, whatever the reason, only creates doubt about transparency in a vital relationship – between a health authority and the community it serves – where no such doubts should exist.


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