A large light fixture above a scanner in the expanded emergency department at Surrey Memorial Hospital brings a touch of the outdoors inside. At left

Expanded ER ‘exactly what the people of Surrey deserve’

Patients who used to go elsewhere may now see Surrey Memorial as their go-to hospital.

Surrey Memorial used to be the hospital some families drove out of their way to avoid when they had to get a loved one to emergency.

Chronic congestion, long waits and a cascade of problems several years ago forced the province to launch the massive hospital redevelopment project now nearing completion.

And when the modern new emergency department opens Oct. 1 it may make SMH the hospital of choice among those who previously shunned it.

Municipal and provincial politicians got a sneak peek inside Friday, and the general public was able to take a look on Saturday. Most visitors were wowed by what will be Canada’s second largest emergency department.

“I’m amazed by the technology and the vastness,” said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts. “We need to be very proud.”

At 57,000 square feet – five times the size of the current ER – it’s big enough to fit three NHL hockey rinks inside.

And the size is just the start of its superlatives and unique attributes.

Fraser Health officials say it will transform health care in Surrey.

“It’s going to look very different and very new,” said Lakh Bagri, interim executive director of SMH. “I think it’s going to give a lot of people confidence in the care they’re going to get.”

He expects wait times will improve at SMH, as a result of better triage methods and patient flow efficiencies, along with additional beds and staff.

But he’s not making guarantees, noting it’s hard to predict how fast Surrey grows or how many patients may flow back to SMH who used to choose other hospitals.

One of the biggest changes is that it’s really not one ER but two – a second dedicated pediatric emergency department is built into it – with separate public entrances.

The idea is to separate kids from other patients, particularly the 7,000 adults a year who arrive who are mentally ill or addicted, so kids no longer have to face some of the sights and sounds of the adult ER.

Those adult patients will be triaged and escorted to a separate and calming Mental Health and Substance Use Zone for treatment, rather than being mixed in with other adults.

The child-friendly pediatric wing will have an entertainment centre, special low-glare lighting in treatment rooms, and isolation rooms for kids with infectious diseases.

Another big change are the private single patient rooms – more than 100 of them.

Also new is the satellite imaging diagnostics department embedded within the new ER.

“They can have CT and radiology in examination without leaving the emergency department and have those diagnostic tests reported back almost immediately,” Bagri said. “So the treatment is a lot faster.”

Similarly, he said, blood collection stations right in the ER should also reduce the turnaround time for blood test results.

“Meet and greet” teams will triage incoming patients.

“As soon as you come in you’re met by a nurse and a clerk who can do a 90-second questionnaire really quickly with you to identify what is the appropriate care place to take you to immediately,” Bagri said.

The new ER is just part of the $512-million SMH redevelopment and expansion.

The rest of the project is slated for completion in June 2014 and includes a new eight-storey critical care tower with 151 more inpatient beds, intensive care unit, academic space and perinatal centre.

“This space is big,” said Dr. Wade Sabados, head of the ER department. “It’s more than that – it’s grand – and exactly what the people of Surrey deserve.”

The bigger building also comes with 275 more staff – about 80 to 100 of them in the ER – and 3,750 new pieces of equipment, much of it being purchased by the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation.

Officials say the advanced new Emergency Department will help SMH attract more specialized ER professionals.

It’s all in anticipation of continued growth as Surrey’s population keeps rising.

Fraser Health projects the SMH ER, which now handles twice the number of patients it was built for, will hit 109,000 patient visits next year.

Adult visits are projected to rise 30 per cent from 2010 levels by 2020 and climb a further 23 per cent by 2030.

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