COLUMN: Fast-growing Surrey must get its fair share of healthcare resources
Returning World War II veterans were the catalyst for the construction of Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Surrey’s northern slopes had been heavily logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating large tracts of building land for returning servicemen and their families. During this period of rapid population growth, the city of Surrey, which then encompassed present-day White Rock, had a small community hospital in its southernmost corner. It was remote and inaccessible for the growing northern and central population. The only alternative was to cross the Fraser River to access the Royal Columbian Hospital.
Battle-weary veterans and their families found the lack of accessible health care increasingly unfair and intolerable and rallied the public to raise 50% of the cost of building Surrey’s first 150-bed Memorial Hospital. It took them 10 years but they raised the funds.
At the end of their fundraiser, they suffered a setback when the government refused to honor their 50% pledge. The courageous women of Surrey, who had then formed an auxiliary, refused to accept the reversal of the government. They put on their hats and gloves, rented several fixed-wing planes from Boundary Bay Airport, and flew to Victoria to confront the Premier of the Legislative Assembly.
Their visit was successful and construction of the Surrey Hospital Memorial began within a year.
Sixty-seven years later, these brave women, their husbands and their many supporters would be remarkably proud of the role played by Surrey Memorial Hospital in the recent pandemic.
The hospital’s talented medical teams have been called upon to care for BC’s sickest residents. Patients have come to Surrey from all over the province, received the best care and experienced the best outcomes in the world.
Surrey Memorial Hospital is an integral part of British Columbia’s healthcare ecosystem. It is therefore disappointing that per capita investment in specialized services and infrastructure consistently lags behind the rest of Canada.
Surrey is the fastest growing major city in Western Canada, growing 9.7% since 2016, yet it remains the only major city in Canada without a funded emergency department to treat the top three causes of sudden death: heart attack, stroke and trauma. .
Nothing has changed since the 1940s, these services are still only available north of the Fraser River.
Surrey, despite having more children per capita than any other city in Western Canada, has seen a sharp decline in the number of pediatric beds over the past two decades. Surrey went from 24 to 16 of BC’s 443 pediatric hospital beds.
The city of Surrey has the highest birth rate in British Columbia, but it has gained only four new maternity beds in 21 years. The Surrey School District, by comparison, added a 650 pupil primary school and a 700 place secondary school in the 2022/23 year alone.
Due to a lack of specialist services, last year BC Ambulance transported 1,683 Surrey residents from Surrey Memorial Hospital to other towns for emergency care. The top three reasons patients were transferred were heart attacks, strokes and specialist pediatric wards.
The courage and tenacity shown by veterans in the 1940s and 1950s is what is needed today for Surrey to receive its fair share of health care resources.
Community campaigning is the most effective method of convincing all stakeholders to actively plan and build the services and infrastructure needed for a healthy Surrey.
Jane Adams is President and CEO of Surrey Hospital Foundation.
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