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Loss of sleep lab would ‘downgrade’ hospital, doctor says

A specialized laboratory at Richmond Hospital that studies sleep could be moved to Vancouver, eroding local health services and posing a “great hardship” for patients, according to a Richmond doctor.

“You can’t just downgrade this hospital anymore,” said Dr. Avinder Minhas. “We should be asking for a moratorium on moving any services out of Richmond.”

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Sleep Disorders Program operates a clinic at UBC Hospital and a lab at Richmond Hospital. The two were integrated into a regional sleep disorders program in 2009, and informal talks of co-locating them have been ongoing, according to spokesperson Viola Kaminski.

A shuffle at UBC Hospital is now forcing the UBC clinic out of its current space, and officials are studying a single new facility at the UBC Hospital.

“No decisions have been made yet. We’re just examining the possibility,” said Kaminski, who noted a study is scheduled to be complete in the spring.

Minhas, a longtime Richmond doctor and sleep medicine specialist, helped establish the Richmond sleep laboratory in 1991.

The lab helps diagnose and treat serious sleep disorders that may lead to early death if not addressed quickly enough, he said.

Minhas appealed to Richmond council Monday for support. He told council Richmond Hospital was small when he first arrived in 1989, and doctors were routinely asked to move patients to Vancouver.

“Losing any service from this hospital should be totally unacceptable. We do not want to become a cottage hospital again.”

Coun. Harold Steves said in the early days of Richmond Hospital, when he chaired the hospital board, innovation was encouraged.

“At that time the role of the hospital and the hospital board was to bring innovative ideas like this into the hospital. So who’s making the decision now to take those innovative ideas out and take them someplace else?”

Backed by his council colleagues, Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he’ll write a letter to hospital and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority officials objecting to the relocation “or any other services from Richmond Hospital.” Council is also requesting a meeting with health officials.

Also Monday council agreed to send a letter to the health authority board urging them to replace Lions Manor on its original site in Steveston, and to complete seismic upgrades at the hospital.

Coun. Linda McPhail said Lions Manor residents are now living in a newly renovated facility on Bridgeport Road that was previously a hotel.

“With substantial growth in our older adult population, we are in immediate need of many more residential beds. It makes sense, as Vancouver Coastal Health already owns the land, to redevelop this (Steveston) site.”

Opened in 1966, Richmond Hospital hasn’t expanded to meet the needs of the city’s growing population, said Coun. Derek Dang. While office space has increased, patient areas have not—and that needs to change, he said.

“It’s the same hospital that’s been around since I was a little guy,” he said. “As leaders of the community, we have to champion the upgrade of the hospital in terms of size.”

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