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Canada’s second-largest ER opens at Surrey Memorial Hospital in B.C.

A construction worker walks past the Surrey Memorial Hospital emergency department after the official opening in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday October 8, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark officially opened Canada's second-largest hospital emergency department on Tuesday – a facility the size of three NHL hockey rinks.

Surrey Memorial Hospital's new ER has the province's second pediatric emergency department solely for children – an idea Ms. Clark called so obvious it's long overdue during an opening ceremony. There are 100 single-patient rooms in the overall ER, up from eight previously.

The 57,000-square foot facility at the base of a new critical care tower that will be fully open in June, 2014 ranks only behind the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga, Ontario in terms of Canadian ER size. It has been built over the last two years.

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"It's going to provide some of the best patient care you'll find anywhere in Canada," Ms. Clark told the opening ceremony. "It will allow health-care professionals to be able to do their jobs better, more efficiently in a much, much better environment."

NDP Health Critic Judy Darcy said, in an interview, that the ER looks "wonderful" from what she has seen, but encouraged a balance in investing in staff to take the pressure off ERs through such measures as home support for the disabled, residential nursing care and a long-awaited seniors advocate for the province..

The expanded health operation has been seen as a necessity for Surrey given its surging population growth. About 1,000 people a month are settling in the city. The population, now at half a million, is expected to hit 750,000 by 2040.

B.C. Liberals dominated Surrey in the recent provincial election, winning five of eight seats there and defeating one NDP incumbent.

"We're going to continue to invest in Surrey. This community is growing. It's thriving and we need to continue to make those investments where we can, as we can afford it," said Ms. Clark.

Asked about similar ER investments in other B.C. communities, Health Minister Terry Lake said the Liberals have spent $8 billion in health care facilities since being elected in 2001 but further investments need to be made.

He said the government is looking at the redevelopment of St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver, and investments are planned for Vancouver General Hospital and in Burnaby.

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Meanwhile, Dr. Craig Murray, director for Surrey's new ER, said the previous ER, built in 1991, was crowded, chaotic and couldn't provide patients with privacy. "(It) was really bursting at the seams with enormous demands," he said.

He said the new ER is an improvement – "a stunning example of exceptional planning and design."

The province put up $492 million towards the $512 million cost of the tower project, which includes the ER. The ministry of health said it did not have a separate cost figure for the ER because the project was budgeted as one piece, including the tower. The remaining $20 million was covered by the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation and Child Health BC.

The ER officially opened on Oct. 1. Media were not allowed to tour it on Tuesday because patients are being treated in the area.

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