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, the 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 said further inquiries are to go through 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 it will be permanent.
“The reason I say that is because they say it’s there 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 it think’s this decision is a good idea.
“It’s strongly opposed by family physicians, strongly opposed by the maternity doctors and the pediatricians, and the community.”
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. on a Friday.
He described the situation as “incredibly frustrating” and said he’s made attempts to speak to Health Minister Adrian Dix about the issue.
“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.”
“The minister has my cellphone (number). I have told him that I am available to discuss this 24/7. But he needs to make this the priority that I’m making it right now.”
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health the maternity ward is being closed, beginning Jan. 28, due to a “gap in pediatrician availability.”
The Ministry said people who have pre-existing plans to deliver at Peace Arch are to attend Langley Memorial.
“Langley Memorial Hospital is 20KM from Peace Arch Hospital and takes approximately 25 minutes by car,” the ministry said. “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 compliment 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.