COLUMN: A test of the health care system

We will learn how well the flood at SMH was handled when the system finally catches up and the last of the delayed surgeries is performed.

The ongoing closure of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency room has been handled reasonably well by Fraser Health Authority thus far, but the real test as to how well this was handled will come months from now, when the health system finally catches up and the last of the delayed surgeries is performed.

Initially, 100 surgeries were cancelled. On Wednesday afternoon, health officials announced all nine operating rooms at SMH were up and running again.

Still, challenges remain. The patients who usually jam SMH’s ER are being treated at other hospitals, and likely some have stayed away from hospitals entirely. There is a temporary emergency centre at the Jim Pattison outpatient centre, just a few blocks from SMH. Thankfully this new facility is now open. A temporary mobile medical unit has also been activated on the SMH property.

SMH has the busiest ER in B.C., and this flooding caused by a construction accident couldn’t have happened in a more critical location. The physical costs of the flooding will be significant, but it is likely that the overall cost to patients’ health will never be fully known.

Each one of the surgeries that was cancelled is of major importance to the patients involved. It is likely that many of them have been on waiting lists for months, if not years. Further delays may be too much for some.

The length of waiting lists for surgery, while a favourite topic for politicians to bandy about at election time, is a real concern in both B.C. and most of the rest of Canada. Our hospital system simply does not deal with many procedures in a timely way.

I was reminded of this last week when my physician sent me for some routine imaging tests. I took the test at 8:30 a.m. and he had the results by 10. His office called me to come in. He asked me to go for another test, as something needed clarification. I did so – taking that test at about 12:30 p.m. I heard back that all was well by 3 p.m.

All of this took place in one day. My physician told me that if I had taken the same test at a hospital, it would take him almost two weeks to get results. For two separate tests, that would have been more than a month of elapsed time.

The B.C. health system is pretty good at dealing with emergencies. A young relative went to SMH earlier this year and was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of cancer. He was dealt with almost instantly, once the diagnosis was confirmed, and thankfully continues to battle the disease.

Heart attacks, strokes, and other serious matters are dealt with promptly. We all know people who have received prompt treatment.

However, surgeries that are not of as urgent a nature are often delayed for months and even years. Hospital operating rooms are not used nearly as efficiently as they could be, and there is a constant battle for enough funding.

On behalf of all those SMH patients who had surgeries cancelled this week, I hope they can be rescheduled sooner rather than later.

But it’s uncertain what the final cost of the interruption of service at this vital facility will be.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

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