Even without news of the COVID-19 pandemic front-and-centre, as it was the previous two years, health care providers and patients alike on the Semiahmoo Peninsula faced many of the same challenges playing out across the rest of B.C. and Canada.
At the same time, residents continued to step up for health care in South Surrey and White Rock through their generous donations to annual fundraising efforts.
Maternity care at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock was a hot topic early in 2022, after Fraser Health Authority announced in mid-January that it would be closing the ward for three full months and diverting expectant mothers to Langley Memorial, due to a lapse in pediatric care attributed to an “unexpected leave.”
The move followed a series of short-term closures that occurred during 2021.
However, community backlash to the longer-term closure was swift and culminated in a protest outside the hospital, with attendees expressing concerns including that the closure would, in fact, be permanent.
That same day, Jan. 20, Fraser Health announced that the closure would be reduced to “sporadic single-day diversions and only when necessary,” crediting the move to “significant new scheduling commitments from the pediatric group at Peace Arch Hospital and commitments from other partners.”
As well, expanded services to support a Pediatric Rapid Access Clinic at PAH were announced, along with “an alternative payment model to support pediatric recruitment.”
Hospital foundation officials, while pleased, described the measures as a “short-term fix.”
In August, the health authority announced that a new pediatrician had been recruited to start in the fall, to “further support the stabilization of pediatric and maternity services at the hospital.”
‘Breaking point’ for doctors
The province’s ongoing doctor shortage also played havoc with the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s family physicians in 2022.
In the spring, Dr. Tahmeena Ali told Peace Arch News that she was “on the brink of quitting every single day” due to the ever-growing workload and no relief in sight.
It wasn’t until late October that the provincial health ministry announced a new payment model would launch in 2023, promising to compensate physicians based on total time spent rather than by patient visit.
Beginning Feb. 1, 2023, it increases gross salary by 54 per cent, and compensates for visits and hours, as well as volume and complexity of patients. Doctors will have the option to remain with the current fee-for-service model if they prefer. Under the new model, there are no caps on maximum patient numbers or how many hours doctors can put in, however, a daily-visit maximum is expected to be set as a quality-control measure.
This year was a banner one for Peace Arch Hospital in terms of upgrades.
In February, hospital and provincial health officials celebrated completion of a three-year, $91-million construction project, which included a significant expansion of the facility’s emergency department.
The work got underway in January 2019. For the ER, the result was an increase in the number of treatment spaces to 50 from 24 and dedicated space set aside for children and families.
A new surgical suite above the emergency department houses two operating rooms, bringing the hospital’s total to five.
Also completed was a relocation and expansion of the hospital’s medical-device processing unit.
Described by unit manager Janet Macaulay as the “heart” of the hospital, the unit is where every device used in hospital procedures and surgeries is sent for sterilization or high-level disinfection. It processes roughly 5,000 pieces of equipment every week.
Expansion plans were first announced in May 2015, and initially focused solely on the ER. The scope of the work expanded over the course of the next two years with the addition of the new surgical suite, then broadened further in late 2020, when three anterooms were approved. That $7.37-million addition was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At this year’s celebration event, Peace Arch Hospital Foundation executive director Stephanie Beck described the redevelopment as “critically needed and incredibly exciting for our community and made possible by the generosity of our donors, many of whom gave again and again to make this dream a reality.”
PAHF provided $38.5 million of the project cost. The balance – $52.55 million – was provided by the province, through Fraser Health.
Groundbreaking plans for a new hospital in Cloverdale were also celebrated this year, with B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix telling the Cloverdale District of Commerce in January that shovels would be in the ground by the “middle of 2023.”
The projected is budgeted at $1.6 billion and the new hospital is expected to be open for patients by the summer of 2027, with 168 in-patient beds, five operating rooms, four procedure rooms, an emergency department, 55 treatment spaces, a medical imaging department, two MRI machines and three CT scanners.
Concern for the future of residents of a White Rock mental-health facility were raised in November, following word that Buena Vista Lodge would be closing in June 2023.
Fraser Health delivered the news to the facility’s owners in October, citing a lack of funding, following the owners’ decision to sell.
The lodge, with 12 beds funded by Fraser Health, has offered live-in mental health treatment to people in White Rock for more than 50 years.
An owner told Peace Arch News that they decided to sell because they could no longer afford to provide the mental-health space, due to a steadily decreasing budget. They said they found people to continue the work, but were told by Fraser Health that funding would end once the current contract expired.
Some of the lodge’s residents have called the facility home for more than two dozen years, and did not take news they will have to relocate lightly.
“You want to pick them up and put them in a different community? I guarantee you, there’s going to be some kind of loss (of life) at some point,” the owner said.
The closure was raised in the legislature Nov. 1 by Surrey-White Rock Liberal MLA Trevor Halford, who questioned why beds would be cut in the middle of a mental-health crisis.
Fraser Health told PAN it was the owners who decided to end its service agreements, and that there was a plan in place to transition the residents to new homes, as well as to ensure access to the supports and services they require continues.
‘Policing’ mental health
White Rock RCMP’s top cop in May reiterated his ongoing call for changes to how mental-health calls are handled, telling council that “appropriately funding the continuum of response to mental health, addictions and other complex social issues… could fundamentally change policing and community health.”
“Mental health care, access to addictions treatment, housing for the spectrum of needs, and support for our young people to avoid and overcome adverse environments, impact policing,” Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls said.
“More training and education for police in these areas will have some impacts, but funding the systems of care are paramount to success.”
The report followed his August 2020 call for a “healthcare-led intervention model,” and his October 2020 recommendation that the city start billing Fraser Health for mental-health apprehensions in which waits for assessment at Peace Arch Hospital exceed 30 minutes.
Pauls noted that White Rock officers spend many hours on mental-health apprehensions, rendering them unable to respond to other calls, including priority emergencies.
“They tend to fall to us because they’re resistant to seeking help, and we tend to be the only help they do get. So it is challenging,” Pauls said.
Funding support for Peace Arch Hospital Foundation and other healthcare-related non-profits remained strong in 2022.
For PAHF, support was particularly notable at its annual gala.
The Italy-themed La Dolce Vita event, held in May, raised more than $900,000, surpassing the $882,000 that was raised at its previous gala, in 2019. The latest funds helped purchase a new mammography machine for the hospital.
Another significant PAHF funding goal was approaching success in November – that of a campaign to raise $3.2 million for a new fluoroscopy unit to help expedite diagnosis and treatment options for those suffering from chronic pain.
Foundation officials thanked the generosity of donors including Gary and Anne McPhail, whose “major gift… had a transformational impact on the status of the overall campaign.”
Meanwhile, a funding announcement earlier this year helped a South Surrey non-profit dental clinic continue to put smiles on the faces of many who may not otherwise be able to access dental care.
Pacific Oral Health Society offers a 30 per cent reduction in fees to low-income people. Along with the Lookout Dental Clinic, POHS was among 21 clinics to share in $2.8 million announced by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty.
Peace Arch Hospital welcomed a four-legged staffer to its emergency department this year, with the addition of its first ER social-worker dog.
Roo, who was raised and trained by Pacific Assistance Dogs Society, was brought onboard “to support and care for our patients who are experiencing trauma, by providing a calming influence and touch.”
The yellow-Lab-golden-retriever was chosen for her demeanour; for having the perfect personality to offer comfort.
Dogs like Roo “are resilient and able to bounce back quickly after something potentially stressful occurs,” handler Christine Simmons said.
“They are also sweet-natured and have the ability to seek out people that need their support.”
Sponsorship by the Rotary Club of South Surrey was “instrumental” in preparing Roo for her role.
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