As snow walloped Vancouver, health care workers were among many making long commutes

Getting to work at B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Wednesday morning involved planning and an hour-and-a-half worth of snow shovelling for labour-and-delivery nurse Aman Vashist.

Then his usual 35-40 minute commute from White Rock to Oak and 29th Avenue turned into an hour-and-a-half odyssey along Highway 99 and Oak Street, which hadn’t been plowed, to make it on time for a 7 a.m. start.

“I knew I was going to be charge nurse (in labour and delivery), and that’s important for us because we are the tertiary care centre maternity hospital for the province,” said Vashist.

And his story, of getting up at 4 a.m. to shovel out 15 metres of suburban driveway, wasn’t out of the ordinary among colleagues who braved the near blizzard to maintain critical health services.

Lower Mainland residents woke up Wednesday to snowy conditions, making traveling treacherous.

Jason Payne /


The winter storm that walloped B.C.’s south coast left the Transportation Ministry and TransLink begging people not to travel. It closed Highway 1 in the Fraser Valley for much of the day. It caused B.C. Ferries to call off afternoon sailings to Vancouver Island due to expected high winds.

And it caused commuter chaos on TransLink, which characterized it as “an extreme travel day.” SkyTrain had severe delays caused by track conditions and icing on train cars. And service on many bus routes was cancelled due to treacherous road conditions.

And Wednesday afternoon, the Ministry of Transportation warned of possible closures on the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges because of the potential danger of snow bombs falling from overhead cables on the structures.

For staff at B.C. Women’s hospital, however, the sense of dedication among Vashist’s colleagues meant a three-hour drive for one and a 45-minute hike to catch a scarce SkyTrain ride for another, he said.

“If there’s another dump of snow, there will be people who stay overnight,” Vashist said. “I’ve seen that before, it’s not out of the ordinary.”

Aman Vashist on Wednesday

Francis Georgian /


B.C. Women’s hospital managed to maintain its scheduled services, said chief operating officer Cheryl Davies, although some outpatient procedures had to be rescheduled because patients didn’t make it in.

“We’re meeting patient needs, so I would say we’re feeling grateful,” Davies said.

At neighbouring B.C. Children’s Hospital, chief operating officer Sarah Bell also had no problems running all its regular operating rooms. “We’re really fortunate that staff made it in, some taking tremendous time and effort,” Bell said.

Across the Vancouver Coastal Health Region, facilities reported no major staffing or operational problems, said communications officer Matt Kieltyka.

In Fraser Health hospitals, said senior public affairs consultant Tasleem Juma, managers had planned for system-wide weather delays, which included transportation options such as carpooling.

“We expect some delays in service delivery, as well as some (patients) that will need to be rescheduled, and are working very hard to minimize any of these impacts,” Juma said by email.

Snow scenics as the Lower Mainland is under an extreme weather warning with most schools closed and people advised to stay home if possible.



Bad weather grounded B.C. Ambulance Service’s air ambulance helicopters, said spokesperson Shannon Miller and B.C. Emergency Health Services experienced higher-than-normal call volumes during the storm.

“The greatest increase in calls is for slips and falls — double our normal call volumes — in the Lower Mainland,” Miller said. “Paramedics are also reporting coming across accidents and medical emergencies while en route to other calls.”

The wintry conditions did make driving more difficult and made for longer wait times for “lower acuity calls,” Miller said.

“We’re doing our best to arrive as quickly as possible to attend to patients and are navigating snowy and icy toads as safely as possible,” Miller said.

“Our Vancouver dispatch centre is advising there are delays today for non-urgent calls,” she said. “They would also like to encourage people to call the 811 line if their medical issue can be managed through nurse support.”

By evening, Environment Canada was forecasting a slow transition to rain in areas closer to the water, but more snow at higher elevations as cold air will remain in place over the North Shore, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and the northern parts of Langley and Surrey.

Snow was expected to ease to scattered rain showers or snow flurries Thursday.

Meanwhile a snow warning for the Fraser Valley was changed to a winter storm warning as a combination of low wind-chill values, blowing snow and the potential for freezing rain were expected to cause hazardous conditions.

Environment Canada said to expect wind chill to reach -20 C and that driving visibility could be near zero in blowing snow.

A wind warning was in effect for Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island Wednesday evening with busts up to 90 km/h expected in some areas.



With files from Stephanie Ip and Tiffany Crawford, Postmedia

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