BURNABY, B.C. - Burnaby Hospital is so aged and underfunded that the annual Christmas tree can't be plugged in because it could overload the electrical systems, says an alarming report prompted by outbreaks of the potentially lethal C. difficile bacteria.
The report said the money the Fraser Health Authority gives the hospital pales in comparison to that given to hospitals of smaller size in the region.
But David Plug, spokesman for the Fraser Health Authority, said Friday that's not the case and that much of the information in the report is outdated because it doesn't include improvements the health authority has made by increasing the number of beds and providing more equipment.
The report said Burnaby Hospital doesn't have enough beds, staff or washrooms and the aging buildings allow for easy spread of infections such as C. difficile, which has plagued the facility.
Plug said those infections were a concern in the past.
"The rates at Burnaby Hospital have been a challenge for a number of years and they've gone from being among the highest in the province to being among the best in the region and very close to the national standard, sometime below the national standard," he said.
Figures from the health authority say the hospital's C. difficile rates so far this year have dropped to 8.9 per 10,000 patient days, compared 15 cases in 2011.
The rate for 12 hospitals managed by the Fraser Health Authority is 7.1 cases per 10,000 patient days while the benchmark rate for Canada is six cases, according to the authority.
The report also said "there is general agreement among all concerned that most of the structures of Burnaby Hospital need to be replaced," noting some buildings are 60 years old.
"To illustrate how desperate the situation is. . .Dr. (David) Jones, (the hospital's medical co-ordinator) advised the committee that WorkSafeBC will not allow the hospital to light up its annual Christmas tree due to concerns about the safety of the hospital’s electrical system."
Plug said the health authority continues to work on improving the hospital, which is slated for expansion, although that will take a few years.
"We expect to have some renovation announcements in the coming months," he said.
The report is controversial because it was put together by a community group that includes Liberal MLAs.
The NDP has charged the committee at the centre of the report was simply a cynical political effort by the Liberals to blame the health authority for the problems at the facility.
Burnaby New Democrat MLA Kathy Corrigan says a redevelopment plan was drafted in 2001 but the Liberals did nothing with it and only now — in the months leading up to an election — they are trying to give the appearance of action.
Earlier this month, the NDP released emails which the party said were signed by three people with close Liberal ties arguing supporting improvements to the hospital could boost the Liberal party's fortunes in the next provincial election, particularly when it comes to the Burnaby-Deer Lake riding occupied by Corrigan.
The document urged the government to either announce upgrade plans or announce public consultations, even if it wasn't ready to commit any money to actually do any work at the hospital, before the NDP had a chance to jump on the issue.
Corrigan said Friday the alarming report simply fulfills what the Liberals set out to do. NDP health critic Mike Farnworth went as far as to call the report "a complete waste of time and resources."
“By crassly putting politics ahead of the needs of the community, the Liberals have gone a long way to discredit themselves and the entire committee process," Farnworth said.
But Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid says hundreds of people had input into the report and she's taking it seriously.
MacDiarmid said she realizes the hospital needs to be replaced and a planning process for that is already underway.
Despite the politics around the committee's work, Jones, the spokesman for the committee, said the report factually reflects what the committee was told during its consultations with citizens, health care workers, unions and professionals.
"The committee was repeatedly told that, despite the best efforts of hospital staff, Burnaby Hospital is struggling to maintain its mandate," Jones said in a news release.
The report said the hospital serves a population of 465,000 people in a city that has become the province's third largest. The emergency department is the second busiest in the Fraser Health Authority and the third busiest in the province.
The oncology department was designed to serve about 2,000 patients per year, but now serves about 10,000. As well, more knee and hip surgeries are done at the hospital than at any other hospital in the health authority.
"The constant refrain heard by the committee from all of the health care professionals – through verbal presentations at public forums or in written submissions – was the desire for funding equity with the other hospitals in the (Fraser Health Authority)", the report said.