Peace Arch Hospital forced to divert expectant mothers

Internal memo advises that anesthetist shortage means PAH will not admit births and other emergency procedures for consecutive Friday nights

For the second week in a row, an unexpected shortage of anesthetists has Fraser Health officials advising pregnant women who find themselves going into labour Friday night that they will not be able to deliver at Peace Arch Hospital, Peace Arch News has learned.

Those in need of emergency surgery will also be diverted.

David Portesi – Fraser Health’s interim executive director of clinical programs, maternal, infant, child and youth – confirmed Thursday that an unexpected lack of anesthetists overnight means the hospital will divert these patients who arrive between 6 p.m. Oct. 26 and 6:30 a.m. Oct. 27 to Surrey Memorial Hospital.

The situation is a replay of what happened during the same time period last week.

The necessity to divert patients was communicated to the hospital’s ER department and other health officials Oct. 16, in an internal memo from the regional anesthesia and surgery department heads and the surgical program’s interim executive director.

A copy of the memo was dropped off anonymously at PAN’s office Wednesday afternoon.

“There is an unanticipated gap in the call schedule coverage for the period of Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 at 1800 hours to 0630 hours, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 for on-call anesthesia at PAH,” the memo states. “As a result, Peace Arch Hospital will be on surgical diversion for this 12-hour period.”

Portesi told PAN he is aware of only one similar diversion at PAH “within the last month.”

It was handled through “physician triage,” he said.

Fraser Health spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said Monday that last week’s diversion resulted in just one maternity patient being turned away from PAH. She chose to drive herself to SMH, Thorpe-Dorward said.

The plan to divert on Oct. 26 remains unchanged, he said.

Portesi is optimistic the two “gaps” will be the last for Peace Arch.

“We’ve had other gaps in the past that we’ve been able to get some coverage for by searching across the Lower Mainland, within our region…

“These two, which should be our last, were just unavoidable at this point.”

Portesi said it is expected that one or two maternity patients will walk through the hospital’s doors during the affected time. Even if a C-section isn’t anticipated, as a precaution, the mothers-to-be will be transferred to SMH, he said.

“We don’t have an anesthetist at Peace Arch to help with that operation,” Portesi said. “Normally, one might say those that don’t need anesthesia can then deliver at Peace Arch, but we wanted to take the extra precaution. During delivery, you can’t always predict when a C-section, emergency C-section, will be needed.”

The number of patients who will need other surgeries is more difficult to predict. Any that arrive will be assessed, stabilized and transported to SMH, if necessary.

“We can’t say divert all ER patients to Surrey Memorial Hospital, because the volumes are unknown and there’s very, very high-quality care that can still be delivered at Peace Arch that can be critical and life-saving and closer to the community.

“However, if a patient does need emergency surgery, once they’re stabilized, they’ll be transported as per protocol to Surrey Memorial.”

Portesi noted the anesthetist shortage is not unique to PAH. There are “pockets” of shortages throughout the province, he said.

Efforts are underway to recruit more of the health-care professionals, and Portesi is optimistic “that we’ve identified some potential candidates that might be able to help us out.”

Portesi encouraged anyone with concerns about the care available at Peace Arch Hospital during the gaps to call (604-531-5512) and ask to speak to a nurse.

Surrey Memorial Hospital is located at 13750 96 Ave.


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