The Saint Mary's Hospital Trilogy
The dust settles and the “SAVE ST. MARY’S” signs fade from blood red to dull orange. The May 20th closure date is now irrevocable.
In November 2003 we were assured by the Fraser Health Authority that patients would receive care in a timely fashion and in as close proximity to their homes as possible. On January 12, 2004, the physicians of Fraser North were advised where the programs of St. Mary’s Hospital would be provided:
- New Westminster
Queen’s Park Care Centre, Subacute Unit and Geriatric Clinic, 32 beds (1 km approximate distance from St. Mary’s Hospital).
Royal City Manor - 23 transitional beds (2 km).
Royal Columbian Hospital - Breast Health Program with related elective surgery to be provided at Eagle Ridge Hospital (3.0, 13 km).
Burnaby General Hospital - Orthopedics until March then to Eagle Ridge Hospital (12.5, 13 km).
- Port Moody
Eagle Ridge Hospital - General, plastic and gynecological surgery (13 km).
Surrey Memorial Hospital - Ophthalmology, retinal surgery (7 km).
- Maple Ridge
Ridge Meadows Hospital - Cataract and dental surgery (23 km).
It is noteworthy that the services of St. Mary’s have been redistributed to five municipalities with a commuting distance of up to 23 km. This represents a real challenge for patients suffering from arthritis, visual impairment and dementia. The facilities providing care for patients with cataracts and retinal disease are separated by two rivers and two bridges. This is tantamount to rationing by geographic isolation. The information map provided to physicians’ offices landmarked two hospitals - “BH” and “RCH”. Eagle Ridge, Surrey Memorial and Ridge Meadows Hospital are not indicated on the map. In fact, Ridge Meadows Hospital is well beyond the eastern borders of the map provided - so much for close proximity.
Government’s approach to St. Mary’s Hospital is symbolic of its handling of medicare and the medical profession. After 30 years of general practice, with some involvement in medical politics, I have developed a degree of insight into the progress of health care delivery in BC. An exponentially escalating health care system driven by the demographics of an aging population, technological advances and unpredicted epidemics (HIV/SARS) has been addressed by government head-in-the-sand myopia and inertia - Social Credit, NDP and Liberals, sequentially. The medical profession has been scapegoated as being motivated by greed. Successive governments have legislatively pistol-whipped our profession into oblivion. Now they are left with the power but lack the insight and wisdom to salvage our health care system. The medical profession has been relegated to the sidelines while politicians, bureaucrats and economists are left with the alchemist’s challenge of turning iron pyrite into gold. I find it intriguing that politicians with a potential career as short as five years can have such impact on the health care system that will influence us for the rest of our lives.
Each night as I transition the twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep, I encounter one of two vivid images. The first is a video clip of the prototype Airbus 330 on a flight demonstration at a French air show as it descends to a perfect “landing” in the middle of a forest. The company’s chief test pilot could not keep pace with the aircraft’s innovative computer systems. The second image is that of an accomplished plastic surgeon struggling to complete a difficult procedure on a skeleton.
St. Mary’s Hospital - The lights are extinguished, the doors are locked and the beat goes on..... to asystole - May 20, 2004.
J. Albrecht, M.D.