COLUMN: Surrey playing health care catch up

Surrey Memorial Hospital expansion barely keeps up to city's rapid growth.

A “topping off” ceremony, indicating that the eight-storey critical care tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital is about a year away from completion, took place Monday.

The new tower will add 151 much-needed beds to the major hospital in Surrey, including 48 beds for neo-natal intensive care. High-risk children’s cases will be more easily dealt with. It will also create 650 health-related jobs in Surrey.

Sadly, this expansion comes nowhere close to meeting the needs of the fast-growing Surrey and North Delta areas, and the wider region that SMH serves.

Surrey is the fastest-growing city in B.C. A steady supply of schools, hospitals and other community facilities is needed to keep up with this breakneck growth. The provincial government, Metro Vancouver, TransLink, the city and the federal government (usually through cost-sharing) all have a role to play in helping the city keep up.

But many needs are not being met in an even close to timely fashion – health care being one of them. The new Jim Pattison outpatient centre has been a big help, but it is already very busy.

Health care is changing rapidly. Medicine is far more advanced than ever, and procedures that lengthen lives and help fix important components of the body such as the heart, lungs, hips and knees are much more widespread. But they are expensive, as are many new drugs.

The aging population also adds to the demand. Even though Surrey is a young community in comparison to many B.C. cities, it has a large number of seniors as well. They often need much more complex and expensive medical treatment.

SMH now deals with far more critical cases than it used to. The days when one could have routine surgery and stay there for three days, as I did in the 1970s, are long gone. The surgery I had at that time would now likely be done as day surgery.

As a result, the facilities must be able to deal with more critical issues. The level of training of the staff must be much higher.

Also, unlike the 1970s and 1980s, the hospital is now part of the much-larger Fraser Health region. While the region has been able to find many efficiencies, the bureaucracy in Fraser Health is Byzantine. Even something as simple as a media inquiry is made unduly complicated.

The structure of health care administration should really be irrelevant. What is important is that health care is available to people when they really need it. For the most part, that is the case in Surrey. But waits at emergency are far too lengthy. Waits for routine tests and screening are often far too long. And of course, many surgery waiting lists are unacceptably lengthy.

Ever since Surrey Memorial Hospital first opened in 1958, it has strived to offer good health care to residents. For the most part, it has succeeded.

But the provincial government in particular must ensure that Surrey gets a large share of future hospital expansion dollars. This community is not going to stop growing, and we have been playing catch up from the day SMH opened.

Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock will also need significant expansion and additional services. It serves a good portion of Surrey, one that is rapidly growing.

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