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Peace Arch Hospital protests planned over maternity ‘diversion’

South Surrey-White Rock moms’ group fears closure of unit may not be temporary
A South Surrey-White Rock moms’ group plans respectful protests for this Thursday and Saturday across 16 Avenue from Peace Arch Hospital in response to a Fraser Health decision to close the maternity unit temporarily. File photo

Members of an ad-hoc White Rock and South Surrey community group said they are planning two protests this week of the impending temporary closure of the Peace Arch Hospital’s maternity unit.

Organizer Bev Bell told Peace Arch News that protesters will gather in front of the hospital on 16 Avenue on Thursday, Jan. 20 as well on Saturday, Jan. 22. The protests are planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.

Bell, a retired nurse who said she has lived in the community since 1989, said she shares other group members’ “outrage over this decision.”

“This is essentially a South Surrey-White Rock group of concerned moms who have had babies in the community and want to continue having babies in the community,” she said, adding that an Instagram petition created by the group has already gathered in excess of 1000 names.

In a press release issued last Friday Fraser Health described the measure – which will send maternity patients with pre-existing plans to deliver at Peace Arch to Langley Memorial Hospital – as an “extended diversion” in response to a lack of pediatricians at the hospital.

“While temporary diversions are part of our regular operating procedure, Fraser Health works diligently to avoid implementing diversions in our hospitals whenever possible,” the release stated.

“When we are unable to fill gaps in physician availability or other non-medical staff, we reluctantly implement temporary diversions to ensure the safety of our patients.”

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But Bell said she is not satisfied with this explanation.

“This has been an on-going problem for the past few years,” she said. “Why, out of the blue, announce this “temporary” closure?

“For a growing community of this size to not offer obstetrical care at its hospital is a tragedy,” she added, noting that the hospital’s maternity unit delivers 1,000 babies per year on-site.

Bell said the protests will conducted in a very responsible manner, observing the 20-metre bubble around hospital facilities already instituted due to anti-vaccination protests.

“By no means do we want to interrupt any function of the hospital,” she said, adding protesters will stay on 16 Avenue.

“We don’t want to block any access and people have been told that no-one is to utilize the parking lots at the hospital. The whole focus is to be respectful, but let our feelings be known.”

She also noted that Peace Arch’s maternity unit completed a renovation valued at more than $5,000,000 in 2010, with money raised by the hospital foundation.

“(This was) money (residents) raised to ensure safe modern obstetrical care for our community,” she said. “Our community believed in this project when they made those donations. Were they duped into making those donations?”

Bell said she understood that there have been plans for further renovations to PAH which include space for a pediatric rapid access clinic, and that the hospital has also just completed a special operating room for caesarean deliveries.

But Bell said her group is concerned that once the unit is temporarily closed, nothing prevents Fraser Health making the step permanent.

She added that the measure will also place a burden on Langley Memorial Hospital of at least 1,000 additional births each year. It’s questionable whether all Peace Arch maternity staff will relocate to Langley, she said.

“People live and work in a community for a reason,” she said. “Commuting to Langley will be a hardship. There’s no guarantee the nurses will just go over there – or the physicians, either.”

Bell noted that, in addition to the impacts on Peace Arch and Langley, the decision will affect the overall health care system, in which community hospitals play a vital role.

“One of those roles is to take pressure off tertiary sites like Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH) and Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH),” she said, adding that closure of Peace Arch’s maternity unit will also have a negative impact SMH and RCH.

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