Returning veterans of the Second World War were the catalyst for the construction of Surrey Memorial Hospital.
The northern slopes of Surrey had been heavily logged throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating vast tracts of buildable land for returning servicemen and their families. During this period of rapid population growth, the City of Surrey, which then encompassed current day White Rock, had a small community hospital in its most southerly corner. It was distant and inaccessible for the growing northern and central-based population. The only alternative was crossing the Fraser River to access the Royal Columbian Hospital.
The battle-weary veterans and their families found the lack of accessible health care increasingly unfair and intolerable and rallied the population to raise 50 per cent of the construction cost of the first 150-bed Surrey Memorial Hospital. It took them 10 years but they raised the funds.
Upon completion of their fundraising, they experienced a setback when the government refused to honour its 50-per-cent commitment. The courageous women of Surrey, who had by this time formed an auxiliary, refused to accept the government’s reversal. They donned their hats and gloves, leased several fixed winged planes from Boundary Bay Airport, and flew to Victoria to confront the premier in the legislature.
Their visit was successful and construction on Surrey Hospital Memorial began within a year.
Sixty-seven years later, those courageous women, their husbands and their many supporters would be remarkably proud of the role Surrey Memorial Hospital played in the recent pandemic.
The hospital’s talented medical teams were called upon to treat the sickest B.C. residents. Patients came to Surrey from every corner of the province, benefited from the best care and experienced the best outcomes in the world.
Surrey Memorial Hospital is an integral part of B.C.’s health ecosystem. It is therefore disappointing that investment on a per capita basis, in specialty services and infrastructure, consistently lags behind the rest of Canada.
Surrey is Western Canada’s fastest growing large city, expanding by 9.7 per cent since 2016 and yet it remains the only large city in Canada without an Emergency Department (ED) funded to treat the three leading causes of sudden death: heart attack, stroke and trauma.
Nothing has changed since the 1940s, those services are still only available north of the Fraser River.
Surrey, despite having more children per capita than any other Western Canadian city, has had a net decrease in pediatric beds over the last two decades. Surrey slumped from 24 to 16 of B.C.’s 443 pediatric hospital beds.
The City of Surrey has B.C.’s highest birth rate but it has only gained four new maternity beds in 21 years. The Surrey School district by comparison, added a 650-student elementary school and a 700-space secondary school in the 2022/23 year alone.
As a result of the lack of enough specialized services, last year BC Ambulance transported 1,683 Surrey residents from Surrey Memorial Hospital to other cities for urgent care. The three leading reasons patients were transferred were heart attacks, strokes and pediatric specialized services.
The courage and tenacity shown by the veterans in the ’40s and ’50s is what is required today if Surrey is to receive its fair share of health resources.
Community campaigning is the single most effective method of convincing all stakeholders to actively plan and build the services and infrastructure necessary for a healthy Surrey.
Jane Adams is president and CEO of Surrey Hospital Foundation.