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Young patients flood Surrey’s pediatric emergency room as region’s ERs overflow

Surrey Hospitals Foundation CEO says more must be done to keep pace with health care needs
Surrey Memorial Hospital’s pediatrics ER is one of many in the region overflowing with patients. (Photo by Anna Burns)

Kristina Winter tried to take her son to the pediatric emergency at Surrey Memorial Hospital on Tuesday evening (Nov. 22).

When they arrived, they saw the lineup to check in was out the door.

“Is this the lineup to go in?” Winter said she asked a woman in line. “And she’s like, ‘Yeah, we haven’t checked in yet.’

“So then we left.”

Winter, who is circulation supervisor at the Now-Leader and lives in North Delta, initially drove to Surrey for care because some of her friends recommended the pediatric emergency room.

After seeing the line and leaving, she took her son to Delta Hospital in Ladner instead. He was checked in right away and, in just under four hours, was seen by a doctor.

Winter had no complaints about the care her son received there.

While CTV has reported that Surrey’s pediatric ER is seeing four times the number of patients it can handle, stories of jam-packed emergency rooms are not unique to Surrey.

In a statement to the Now-Leader Dr. Craig Murray, regional medical director of emergency medicine for Fraser Health, said hospitals across the country are experiencing a “higher-than-normal volumes of patients, including children, in our Emergency Departments.”

Dr. Murray told the Now-Leader it is normal to see an increase in respiratory illness at this time of year, but that the spike in respiratory illness does not happen all at once.

“What’s really unusual this year is that they are all arriving around the same tree of time,” said Dr. Murray.

He added that they are currently seeing almost double the number of respiratory illnesses this year in comparison to the same time last year.

This increase in respiratory illness is not limited to Surrey alone.

B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver is also experiencing an influx of patients. They are triaging less serious patients from its emergency department to a nearby area due to a surge of people with respiratory illnesses.

Surrey’s pediatric emergency room was built to accommodate 20 000 patients annually. In the year before the pandemic hit 2019, the ER saw over 44,000 children.

COLUMN: Fast-growing Surrey must receive its fair share of health resources

Jane Adams, CEO of Surrey Hospital Foundation, said the pediatric ER is only 5,500 square feet.

“A lot of people have homes larger than that,” she said.

Adams said that health care has not been keeping pace in terms of the “specialized services we need for children.”

The 2021 census from Stats Canada showed that Surrey is the fastest-growing city in Western Canada and 23 per cent of its population are children and youth. Surrey also has the highest birth rate in the province.

Adams added that some health care available for children and youth in Surrey have contracted over the last two decades.

In 2001, the hospital had 24 funded pediatric beds. In 2021, it only had 16. The number of available inpatient pediatric beds is also disproportionate to the number of children and youth that live in the region, Adams says.

A release from Surrey Hospitals Foundation states that B.C. has a total of 442 pediatric inpatient and mental health beds. Surrey only has 36 of those beds – eight per cent – although 41 per cent of B.C.’s children and youth live in the Fraser Health region.

“We are also working to expand our inpatient pediatric bed capacity at our regional sites for children who do need to be admitted to hospital,” Dr. Murray said.

If it is not a medical emergency, Dr. Murray recommends calling your family doctor or if they are unavailable going to an urgent care centre.

Surrey has two urgent and primary care centres. One is located in Netwon (6830 King George Blvd) and the other is in Whalley (Unit G2 9639 137A Street).

– With files from The Canadian Press

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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