On Monday, Fraser Health provided two senior leaders to address the latest letter outlining risks to patients, allegations of muzzling, and pleas for help from emergency physicians in the health authority’s hospitals.
Emergency doctors at the sister hospitals of Royal Columbian and Eagle Ridge have sent an open letter warning to their community of “the critical situation that is currently creating risk for our patients and undermining our ability to provide timely and safe, quality care” that has left them “at a breaking point.”
They say patients who need admission to hospital fur further treatment are waiting up to 72 hours in chairs or hallways, “negatively affecting patient care, putting patients at risk of unnecessary harm” due to the shortage of hospital doctors and nurses.
They are strikingly similar to the concerns raised by Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors last week, who say patients have died while waiting for care. Another doctor has urged his colleagues to advise patients to avoid Langley Memorial Hospital, which he described as “near collapse.”
“I would say there’s some truth to those letters,” said Dr. Paul Johar, executive director of wellness and partnerships for Fraser Health, and an emergency physician himself. “I can definitely acknowledge the distress and strain that the physicians who penned this are echoing.”
He spoke to CTV News alongside Dr. Victoria Lee, the CEO of the health authority, as they insisted they’re using several strategies to improve access to medical care.
‘WE ARE FEELING A LOT OF THOSE CHALLENGES’
Johar revealed there have been daily meetings between Fraser Health and emergency department to come up with “innovations” in how they deal with what the health minister has described as exceptional hospital volume, including trying to beef up family doctor access, opening more long-term care beds and hiring some 200 staff at Surrey Memorial Hospital in order to decentralize demand.
“All roads right now lead to emergency departments,” said Lee. “We can’t deny that right now we are feeling a lot of those challenges and pressures…overall, there’s a lot of actions to improve that over time.”
She emphasized that all hospitals are seeing soaring demand, which is supported by a rare “red alert” announcement by BC’s emergency doctors, and echoed by the president of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, who’s leading a national conference in Toronto.
“I have no faith or any confidence that things are going to be any better this summer,” said Dr. Alan Drummond, who suggested governments and health officials have a poor handle on the situation with no feasible plans. “I think we’re in for a rough ride, and that would be the consensus of my colleagues coast to coast.”
A TALE OF TWO HEALTH AUTHORITIES
Last week, Fraser Health quietly added its hospitals to a government website posting real-time updates about hospital wait times and expected length of stay that had hitherto only included Vancouver Coastal Health.
Both health authorities are posting fluctuating times, which is common, but the frustration and discontent of Fraser Health doctors is clear: they consistently have fewer resources, beds, and critical resources than their Vancouver Coastal Health colleagues, who have not published any open letters voicing concerns about patient safety and quality of care.
When CTV News pointed out that dire warnings about four Fraser Health hospitals may have patients going to the closest VCH acute care center instead, Lee was adamant that her hospitals are safe and provide care according to severity of need.
“I’ve been very clear that when there’s an emergency, I would take myself or my family anywhere we’re nearest — in Fraser, in BC, anywhere else,” she said.
It’s worth noting that not only was Eagle Ridge Hospital the setting of a nurses’ rally the likes of which has not happened elsewhere, and that it’s the first hospital in Fraser Health to upgrade its electronic systems in what’s been described as a frustrating and controversial transition .
“Time after time, physician advocates have been met with no tenable solutions and have been reprimanded by the administration for speaking out regarding an unsafe workplace,” reads the joint letter, further reinforcing allegations the health authorities are muzzling healthcare workers.