Fraser Health officials are denying reports that emergency doctors at Surrey Memorial Hospital had declined to provide after-hours coverage of cardiac arrests in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).
Dr. Urbain Ip, medical director at SMH, said discussions have been underway for some time between ER doctors and hospital officials over how best to reorganize coverage in light of worsening hospital congestion.
ER doctors who are under growing pressure want their counterparts in ICU to begin handling their own department’s cardiac emergencies when possible, a break from the past practice of calling in ER staff.
But Ip said the ER physicians have now agreed to continue covering ICU “code blue” calls to resuscitate cardiac arrest victims when the ICU team is unavailable.
“The ER doctors have promised me that when they are requested to go to ICU to attend cardiac arrest they will not refuse, they will go upon request.”
The ICU director at SMH, Dr. Grant McCormack, resigned his position but Ip said he couldn’t speculate as to the reason.
“I want to guarantee that Fraser Health Authority is not going to allow anything other than best patient care,” he said.
Ip said he expects discussions about potential changes to continue on how best to handle cardiac emergencies.
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma called it an ongoing discussion and said it’s merely a coincidence the issue has boiled up in public after the opening of Surrey Memorial’s new ER, which is already overloaded to the point that patients are once again being treated in hallways.
“Patient care for cardiac arrest is not being compromised or changed,” she said.
“This is about looking at, as the hospital grows and expands and there’s more demand, how to ensure that those services are being delivered in a timely way and how can they work cooperatively to make sure that continues to happen.”
Dr. Adam Lund, a spokesman for emergency room physicians based at Royal Columbian Hospital, said ER doctors at SMH and other Lower Mainland hospitals are swamped.
“We are chronically overcrowded,” Lund said.
“Hospitals are often operating beyond capacity and the emergency departments are the default locations to store patients until there can be turnover up on the wards.”
Lund stressed he could not speak for Surrey ER doctors, but said it seems logical to him that they might be seeking to negotiate more funding for ER coverage to ensure it’s not impaired when a member of the ER team is called away to ICU and a critically ill patient arrives through the front door.