UPDATE: ARH not among ER expansion projects

Staff for Health Minister Terry Lake says information on expansion projects given to The News Wednesday was incorrect

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency room has come under scrutiny after the recent deaths of two patients.

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency room has come under scrutiny after the recent deaths of two patients.

There is no expansion in the works for Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s emergency department, contrary to what Terry Lake told The News last week.

Lake had said in an interview on Wednesday that business plans for emergency expansions at three Fraser Health hospitals, including ARH were under review.

However, on Friday, staff for Lake said the Minister had been given incorrect information and that ARH’s emergency room wasn’t among the three sites under consideration.

“There are no specific plans to expand the emergency department at Abbotsford Hospital. Ministry of Health is, however, reviewing several plans for Emergency Department expansions in Fraser Health including Eagle Ridge Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital and Peace Arch Hospital,” staff said in an email. “We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Ministry staff noted that a plan to create a new mental health and substance use area in the ARH ER has already been announced.

An expansion for Mission Memorial Hospital’s emergency department also isn’t being planned, contrary to what The Record reported last week.

Business plans have been prepared for emergency room expansions at three Fraser Health hospitals. Instead of Mission, Langley Memorial Hospital’s ER could get an upgrade. A transcription error on the part of the reporter led to the mistake.

The original story appears below.

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The province is reviewing plans for expansions to the Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) emergency room, Health Minister Terry Lake told The News Wednesday.

The emergency department has come under scrutiny over the last month following the recent deaths of two people who had been sent home.

Those deaths – of three-year-old Nimrat Gill and 56-year-old Mary Louise Murphy – have not been directly linked to congestion issues. Gill’s death is the subject of a formal review, while Fraser Health has said it will take another look at Murphy’s medical records.

But the incidents have shone a light on persistent congestion issues that have plagued ARH and many other Fraser Health hospitals for years. ARH and most other Fraser Health hospitals continue to fall short of targets of admitting ER patients within 10 hours. Emergency room experts also say there is evidence that congestion is linked to poorer outcomes for patients.

Health Minister Terry Lake told The News that business plans to expand the ARH ER, along with emergency departments in Mission and White Rock, are currently before the province’s Ministry of Finance.

“That will help in terms of congestion issues,” he said.

No announcements have been made yet, and Lake did not detail the scale of those expansions.

“We hope to have more to say on that in the next couple of months.”

Lake noted that wait times in Abbotsford are below average, but acknowledged that congestion remains an issue.

“We know that this year has been challenging at several locations, including Surrey and Abbotsford,” Lake said. He said steps taken by Fraser Health have been effective at some sites, but less so in others, including Abbotsford.

He said the health authority brought in more staff last weekend to help new patients and transfer others out of hospital to free up space.

He said some patients had been transferred to Langley Memorial Hospital, and 15 “flex beds” were opened up in Abbotsford and another five in Mission to ease congestion. Through Sunday, though, the ARH ER remained busy. One father told The News he brought his feverish daughter to the ER after she had suffered a seizure. After failing to have her temperature or other information taken by a nurse for half an hour, he said he drove her instead to Langley, where she received immediate help.

Fraser Health has been trying to reduce congestion for years. But Lake said he is hopeful that new and ongoing initiatives will turn the tide.

“Emergency room congestion has been an issue ever since I have been aware of health care,” he said. “It goes back a long way. That’s not an excuse and that’s not to say we can’t do better. But some of the strategies take some time to see the effect through the system.”

MLA Judy Darcy, the NDP’s spokesperson on health, said the government has been “ignoring” congestion issues for years, despite plenty of notice. She pointed to cuts to acute care beds at B.C. hospitals, including ARH, and additions to residential care beds that don’t keep up with the aging population.

Darcy said more investment in community support and residential care is needed. She said more information is needed on several issues, including the acute care bed cuts. Asked whether the NDP would commit to reopening closed acute care beds, Darcy said such beds would remain open “until alternatives are in place.”

“It makes no sense to close beds until you have created alternative places for people to go and be cared for,” she said.

She also said more nurses need to be hired to alleviate staffing shortages and the province needs to do more to help residents connect to a family doctor.