Fallout continues over allegations that homeless patients were discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and shuttled by taxi to Chilliwack shelters.
Premier John Horgan described the allegations from Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove sent to Fraser Health as “startling” during his weekly media availability Thursday in the legislature in Victoria.
“If that is in fact the case, that’s startling for me and I think startling for all British Columbians,” Horgan said.
“Why we brought in a minister of mental health and addictions is so that we didn’t have examples like this, where we find cracks in the system, and those who have potential mental health challenges are left to their own devices.”
Popove’s letter criticized how hospital officials decided to discharge two patients on separate occasions last month and send them to shelters when they still required some level of care. One person was incontinent and the other had open sores on their feet.
“A homeless shelter is no place for a person with health concerns or special medical needs,” Popove said in his letter to Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee, adding Chilliwack struggles with its own ability to house its homeless.
Chilliwack MLA John Martin also broached the topic during question period this week, asking Health Minister Adrian Dix to pledge this would never happen again.
He asked how it could be that “significantly vulnerable” patients like the ones described in the mayor’s letter could be dispatched to a shelter almost 80 kilometres away.
“The great people of Chilliwack do more than their share of heavy lifting on the homeless front,” Martin said. “In short, they punch above their weight.”
Dix said he would follow up on the circumstances. “We have very significantly increased our investment in health care in the last number of years but that doesn’t mean that in every case things are perfect.”
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Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam confirmed CEO Dr. Lee had reached out to Popove that morning to review his concerns, which are being taken “very seriously” and are “troubling” for everyone.
“When a patient is medically stable and ready to leave the hospital, we make every effort to find them suitable housing if they don’t have a home to return to,” Tam wrote in an email.
“It is very unusual to transition a patient into a different community unless they ask for this, or if it is the only community with housing that meets their needs at the time.”
Hospital beds are reserved for patients with the highest health needs, Tam continued.
“A discharge transition from an emergency room to a shelter would only happen when the patient is deemed medically stable, community services (if needed) have been set up, and if it has been agreed to by the shelter staff.”
Fraser Health is working with BC Housing and municipalites to develop more options, he said, while making sure not to use hospital beds as an alternative to proper housing.
—With files from Tom Fletcher