Few surprises in Burnaby Hospital report: MLA Corrigan

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Burnaby Hospital's infrastructure is so old that WorkSafeBC won't allow hospital staff to light up its annual Christmas tree due to concerns about the safety of its electrical system, according to the report of the Burnaby Hospital Community Consultation Committee.

That's just one of a myriad of concerns over both the facility's structure and resources allocated to it that are outlined in the report.

The oldest buildings are 60 years old and "to repair any of the plumbing or electrical services in the old buildings means that the entire service to the building has to be shut down," the report said.

There are not enough sinks for staff or visitors to wash their hands, and all the toilets are hand flush models, both which contribute to the spread of C. difficile, an infectious illness that claimed the lives of 84 people at the hospital between 2008 and mid-2011.

In the palliative care ward, six of the 11 beds are in double-bed wards which "are not felt to be appropriate for dying patients."

Burnaby-Deer Lake NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan said the report's findings were not a surprise.

In fact, many issues have been known for more than a decade.

In the fall of 2000, the then-New Democrat government commissioned a master plan for Burnaby Hospital which was completed in August 2001, a few months after the BC Liberals took office.

"That's the last anybody saw of it," Corrigan said.

The master plan, prepared by the RPG Partnership in association with Stantec Architecture Ltd., found that the north and west towers need to be demolished and rebuilt because they are outdated and won't stand up to an earthquake.

"We've known for over a decade the hospital needs to be rebuilt and nothing has happened under the Liberal watch and things have deteriorated even further," she said. "Remember, the hospital is now 11 years older than when the original plan was written."

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the Fraser Health Authority has used the 2001 master plan to inform its capital planning over the past decade, and stressed that it's the health authorities which set out their priorities for funding.

Over the past 10 years, the province has spent $7 billion on health capital projects and has completed or started construction on new facilities across the province, from Surrey Memorial and Victoria's Royal Jubilee, to hospitals in Fort St. John, Kelowna and Burns Lake among others, MacDiarmid said.

She noted that if the province goes into too much debt, it could affect its credit rating and in turn will cost taxpayers more to borrow for future projects.

As it is, the ministry has invested $20 million in capital works at Burnaby Hospital over the past 10 years and Fraser Health is due to complete its new master plan shortly, which is the first step in the redevelopment planning process, she said.

"We do get them done one by one by one."

As for the Christmas tree, MacDiarmid noted that the WorkSafeBC order was not to do with the electrical system but rather safety issues from workers having to go up on the hospital's roof.

While numerous shortcomings of the buildings are identified, much of the report is focused on claims that Burnaby does not receive its fair share of resources from Fraser Health.

In effect, the report said, the hospital is serving an estimated 465,000 people, not only Burnaby residents but those in neighbouring East Vancouver and the Tri-Cities. Burnaby Hospital is serving that population with only 289 beds compared to Surrey Memorial Hospital with 606 beds serving a population of about 490,000.

Burnaby has six out of 10 operating rooms in use (the number drops to only four in the summer), and an annual operating room budget of $9 million compared to Surrey Memorial's $18 million.

Burnaby Hospital's emergency department is the second busiest in Fraser Health and the third busiest in the province. And while its oncology department was designed to serve up to 2,000 patients a year, it now serves almost 10,000 annually.

Surgical wait times are dramatically longer at Burnaby than at other hospitals in Fraser Health.

For instance, between July 1 and Sept. 20, the report said, waits for hand and wrist surgery were 48.6 weeks in Burnaby compared to 3.8 weeks at Royal Columbian and 9.7 weeks at Surrey Memorial. Waits for a breast biopsy were 20.3 weeks in Burnaby compared to 3.7 in Royal Columbian, 4.2 in Surrey and 2.1 in Ridge Meadows.

MacDiarmid said she will be meeting with the deputy health minister, Fraser Health CEO Nigel Murray and board chair David Mitchell in the next two to three weeks to talk about how the health authority plans to address issues raised in the report.

She noted that the report compares Burnaby, a community hospital, to other hospitals that are designated to provide higher levels of care such as being a trauma centre and a site for open heart surgery and neurosurgery.

"The kinds of resources that you have in terms of imaging, and numbers of operating rooms and things like that, it really does differ depending on what sort of services the hospitals are responsible for."

MacDiarmid said she heard the concerns of Burnaby Hospital doctors when she met with about 10 of them approximately three weeks after becoming health minister in September.

As a result, a consultant has been looking into the issues raised and a report is expected to the ministry soon.

David Plug, chief communications officer for Fraser Health, said health authority staff are still trying to confirm and clarify the statistics in the report, and said in some instances, they appear to be out of date.

In recent months there has been much progress in Burnaby to shorten wait times, Plug said. "The breast biopsy [at Burnaby] is supposed to have the lowest wait times in Fraser Health right now and yet this chart [in the report] doesn't say that. That's the kind of information that we're looking into."

He noted that the report doesn't appear to be comparing apples to apples.

"If you include people from outside Burnaby in the catchment area ... but then compare it to a regional hospital and say they're only serving the people in their municipality, that's not a fair, reasonable or accurate comparison because they too are providing services to multiple communities in the region."

As for dealing with C. difficile, improvements have been made, with one unit converted from three-to-four-patient rooms to two-patient rooms, to reduce the spread of any infection. Burnaby Hospital is now also a leader in handwashing following audits.

Despite some differences of opinion, "Overall everyone agrees Burnaby Hospital needs expansion and redevelopment," Plug said.

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