Burnaby Hospital surgical wait times blamed on inequitable funding

Burnaby Hospital sees more than 200 people a day in its emergency department. Dr. David Jones says they are not seeking more resources than other hospitals, merely a more fair and equitable arrangement. - NewsLeader File
Burnaby Hospital sees more than 200 people a day in its emergency department. Dr. David Jones says they are not seeking more resources than other hospitals, merely a more fair and equitable arrangement.
— image credit: NewsLeader File

Burnaby Hospital may have the longest waits for surgery in the Fraser Health region, but that's because it doesn't get equal treatment when it comes to resources, says the facility's medical coordinator.

Dr. David Jones was responding to a Black Press story on how Fraser Health had cut back on the number of surgeries earlier this year to avoid an operating room budget overrun. That's despite the fact surgical wait times at its hospitals are already significantly longer than for patients in the neighbouring Vancouver Coastal region.

The two benchmarks the provincial government uses to gauge surgical waits is how long it takes to complete 50 per cent of cases and 90 per cent of cases.

For the first three months of 2014 until March 31, Fraser completed half its surgeries within 6.4 weeks – the other half of patients waited longer than that. That's compared to 5.1 weeks at Vancouver Coastal and 6.0 weeks for the B.C. average.

Ninety per cent of surgeries performed in those months at Fraser waited less than 31.3 weeks (10 per cent waited longer). That's compared to 23 weeks for Vancouver Coastal and 28.3 weeks for the provincial average.

The Lower Mainland hospital with the worst surgical waits in the first three months of the year was Burnaby Hospital. It took 47.7 weeks to reach the 90 per cent completion mark.

Jones said the earlier story confirms "that Burnaby Hospital needs more resources to look after [its patients]. We see over 200 people a day in our emergency department."

Burnaby Hospital is not asking for more than other hospitals have, just what is "fair and equitable," he said.

As an example, Jones said Burnaby has two nurses per operating room while other hospitals in Fraser Health have three per OR. That additional nurse allows breaks and other absences to be covered, reducing the down time of ORs.

Located in the third-largest city in B.C., Burnaby Hospital "looks after 10 per cent of the province's population," noted Jones, who has long lobbied for the aging facility to be rebuilt.

But Fraser Health doesn't fund its health care facilities by the volume of patients they receive. Instead, it has to do with the illnesses and injuries the hospitals are designated to treat, said Dr. Roy Morton, executive medical director for Fraser Health.

Fraser Health is currently reviewing nursing staffing levels in operating rooms, Morton noted. It should be completed within the next several weeks.

"Burnaby Hospital is staffed with nurses exactly the same way that other community-based hospitals in Fraser Health are staffed, compared to say, Langley, Eagle Ridge,  Ridge Meadows etc."

While there are more nurses per OR at Royal Columbian, "the level of acuity of surgery is very, very different," Morton said.

As a provincial trauma centre, RCH automatically receives all the most serious cases. That includes vascular, cardiac and neurosurgery patients. As a result, its staffing needs are higher than a community hospital that does mostly elective surgeries.

"An elective gall bladder surgical repair at a community hospital is a very different operation than an emergency coronary artery bypass valve repair and the staffing levels would reflect that."

Emergency surgeries make up about 70 per cent of the case load at Royal Columbian while Burnaby would be "completely reversed from that." The majority of its cases are "run-of-the-mill routine elective surgeries."

While such cases are important, Morton said, it's much easier to plan staffing for them, compared to sudden emergency cases with the "acuity of somebody rolling through the door bleeding to death."

~ with files from Jeff Nagel

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