The White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice is calling out Fraser Health, saying it has created an unsafe situation for expectant mothers on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
Further, board chairman Dr. Rogan Thavarajah said that, despite assurances to the contrary, he is convinced the planned temporary closure of the Peace Arch Hospital maternity ward will, in fact, be permanent.
Fraser Health announced in a Jan. 14 news release that PAH’s maternity ward is to close for three months, beginning Friday, Jan. 28.
The health authority cited a shortage of pediatricians as the primary reason for the decision.
Fraser Health declined an interview request by Peace Arch News, and instead directed inquiries to the Ministry of Health.
Typically working in the background in collaboration with Fraser Health, it’s considered out of character for the White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice to contact media about an issue created by the health authority.
“We don’t do media releases and this kind of thing,” Thavarajah said. “The fact that we’re even doing this speaks to the depth of our serious concerns about this.”
Thavarajah said the division is worried about the safety of its patients and safety of women in not only the South Surrey and White Rock area, but beyond.
As part of Fraser Health’s temporary closure, all expecting patients are to be diverted to Langley Memorial Hospital. Peace Arch Hospital delivers about 1,000 babies per year.
“That will almost double the capacity that Langley will have to deal with,” Thavarajah said.
In addition, Thavarajah said it’s “misleading” for Fraser Health to call it a “temporary” closure, and he stressed that he believes it will be permanent.
“The reason I say that is because they say it’s to do with the pediatric issue around coverage. That issue has been around for the last two, two-and-a-half years. We know that when you close the unit, even temporarily, you’re going to lose those pediatricians,” he said.
“You’re going to lose the staff. You won’t be able to open. Even if we believe what Fraser Health is telling us – that this is a temporary closure – even if they believe it, it will lead to a permanent closure.”
Thavarajah said Fraser Health made the decision without a plan and without any consultation with the community, maternity doctors, pediatricians, or even doctors in Langley or Surrey.
“They’ve run this like a covert operation, where they have made their own decision and not told anybody. We’re seriously worried in terms of our community. We’re worried about the travel time. The fact that you’re talking at least a half-an-hour to Langley, imagine doing that when you’re in labour with some of the adverse weather we’ve had.”
In addition, Thavarajah said the closure increases anxiety for expecting parents.
“This is such a serious safety issue, everybody needs to speak out about this,” he said. “They haven’t been clear about what the plan is. They’ve said, ‘You speak to your physician and you go to Langley.’
“What does that mean for these women? They have a dedicated maternity doctor that’s been following them, what happens to them? I can’t imagine the stress in that situation and that’s the last thing that you need when you’re expecting.”
Thavarajah said Fraser Health hasn’t yet clarified why the decision was made.
“It’s strongly opposed by family physicians, strongly opposed by the maternity doctors and the pediatricians, and the community.”
The Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, which has contributed millions of dollars to the hospital, said that the closure is not what the Foundation, its donors, nor its patients expect or deserve.
“This has been an ongoing issue for several years with diversions taking place throughout 2021,” the Foundation said in a statement. “Fraser Health has assured us that this shut down is temporary, lasting a few months at the most, while they secure enough pediatricians for Peace Arch Hospital. We have emphasized to Fraser Health our financial commitment, in any way possible, to remedying this unfortunate situation for our community. Maternity care has long been a priority for the Foundation and that remains unchanged. We will continue to work closely with Fraser Health to find a permanent solution to this issue.”
Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford said his email inbox “blew up” with concerns from his constituents following Fraser Health’s announcement, which was released to the media at 5:45 p.m. last Friday.
“The government wants to talk about the new hospital coming to Surrey, which, by the way, will not have the ability to deliver babies. They actually should start talking about how they can’t resource the existing one,” Halford said. “If you’re going to come here and talk about a new hospital in Surrey that does not have a shovel in the ground, you actually need to come here and face the residents on why you’re shutting down the maternity ward for three months.”
Halford said he had a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday to discuss the closure, during which Dix “guaranteed” that the measure was only temporary. Both politicians agreed that pediatrician recruitment is a priority, Halford said.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health confirmed the closure comes due to a “gap in pediatrician availability” and that expectant mothers will be diverted to Langley.
“Langley Memorial Hospital is 20KM from Peace Arch Hospital and takes approximately 25 minutes by car,” the ministry statement reads. “Langley Memorial is well-equipped and prepared to take on the additional diverted patients.”
The ministry said the diversion will remain in place until a full complement of pediatricians is recruited to support maternity patients at Peace Arch Hospital.
“We know it’s challenging for parents when hospitals are put on temporary maternity diversion. However, we must put the health and safety of those who are pregnant and their babies foremost in our planning. There are times – for staffing and other reasons – that hospitals must go on temporary maternity diversion as part of regular operating procedures,” the ministry said.