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Close Up: On the Move: Complicated logistics for Kelowna General Hospital transfer

Tracy McDonald, health services administrator at Kelowna General Hospital, at the reception desk to the new emergency ward in Centennial Tower.  - Doug Farrow/Contributor
Tracy McDonald, health services administrator at Kelowna General Hospital, at the reception desk to the new emergency ward in Centennial Tower.
— image credit: Doug Farrow/Contributor

It’s likely the biggest move Kelowna has ever seen.

On Sunday morning, up to  25 per cent of all patients at Kelowna General Hospital will move, or be moved, from various parts of the facility into the new Centennial Tower.

But the patient move is just the completion of a manoeuvre that has taken more than a year to plan and nearly a week to carry out, involving the opening of two large new buildings at the KGH—the six-storey Centennial Tower and the Dr. Walter Anderson Building, new home of the hospital’s clinical support services and laboratories—that has touched, both directly and indirectly, every department at the hospital.

But, if all goes according to the plan, the hospital won’t skip a beat.

And for the men and women who have worked so hard on every last minute detail, that will be success.

“It’s very, very orchestrated,” said Tracy McDonald, the IHA’s health services administrator at KGH.

“Our team has done so much planning. We are as ready as we can be.”

For McDonald, along with the rest of the administrators and 2,500 staff at KGH, preparing for the move has been so much more than simply the logistics of wheeling patients from one area to another.

While the move is ultimately a patient-focused exercise, the amount of equipment, furnishings and ancillary services required for such a move is immense.

Hospitals are equipment-heavy places that can’t be shut down for a few days to simplify such a huge undertaking.

New and relocated equipment and furnishings must be in place before patients move from one area to another.

And because entire departments are relocating, staff have had to be retrained for the new, larger work spaces they will move into. So staff training was a critical part of the planning, said Erika Harmat-Caspers, Interior Health’s project manager for the move and the woman at the centre of the planning process for the last 14 months.

Operating out of a command centre on the ground floor of the new Centennial Tower—a room that will be the nerve centre of the operation come Sunday morning—Harmat-Caspers and her team will direct the flow of patients, including residents of the hospital’s psychiatric unit, the ambulatory care unit, emergency department, renal and eye departments as well as others.

Literally, as the doors to a department’s old quarters close behind the last person out, the doors to that department’s new space, in either the Centennial Tower or the Anderson clinical support building, will open.

In the case of the emergency department, one of the biggest and busiest at the hospital, the official change over will occur starting at 7 a.m. with patients going to the existing emergency department before that time on Sunday morning while  patients arriving after that time will be admitted at the new department.

Any patients still in emergency by noon will be transferred to the new location.

The physical move actually started on Tuesday with non-medical areas like the hospital gift shop, along with the KGH Foundation and other administrative offices, moved first.

Depending on the size of the department, multiple phases were planned during this week to accommodate the moving process, leading up to Sunday’s culmination.

With a move as large and as complicated as one involving several departments, support services and ancillary areas of a hospital, there are a myriad of issues to cover off—everything from the very large to the minute has to be taken into account, both in the planning and the execution.

From critical issues, such as infection control—there will be cleaning crews to wipe down everything as it leaves the old part of the hospital and enters the new tower—to equipment transfers, from the unpacking of new equipment and furnishings and recalibration and the physical movement of patients, IH planners and the company it has hired to do the physical moving, Health Care Relocations based out of Peterborough, Ont.  feel they have it all covered.

Every patient that moves—there could as many as 100 but the hospital thinks it will likely be around 70 depending on how busy the hospital is Sunday morning—will have a nurse accompany them on the move down the prescribed routes through the corridors.

Borrowing from an idea it got from observing a similar move at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital, IH will have UBCO student nurses awaiting each patient as they arrive in their new rooms.

The student nurses will stay with the patients making sure they are comfortable, and inform patients’ families that they have moved and where they are now located.

Harmat-Caspers said being able to observe both Victoria’s move and a similar but smaller scale one at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s new patient care tower earlier this year was helpful for planning KGH’s move.

She said because there are always tweaks that can be made to make such a huge undertaking easier, lessons were learned.

And that is something Brayden Johnston, the project manger for Health Care Relocations, agrees with.

His company, the leading expert on hospital moves across NorthAmerica, has moved facilities both big and small.

Johnston says there is always something to be learned, something to use in the next move.

He described the KGH move as a medium-sized relocation, but not one without its challenges.

“There is a lot of logistical work getting from A to B in this hospital,” he said, while recognizing the atmosphere here is far more relaxed compared to other facilities.

He cited the example of the company’s move for the U.S. Army at the huge Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C. “It’s different dealing with the U.S. Army,” he said.

In addition to the physical movement of equipment—much of which is highly specialized and needs recalibration once it has been relocated—Health Care Relocations is also handling the co-ordination of the arrival of new equipment and furnishings at KGH.

“This is much more than a domestic move,” said Johnston with a smile when asked to compare what his company is doing to a home or business move.

He said his company has been working with IH on the move plan for the last six months. They will have about 16 full-time and locally-hired employees at KGH present for the move, as well as many volunteers.

The company also handled the Vernon move, and learned a few things from that relocation which can be applied to the KGH transfer.

Johnston said while the move in Vernon went smoothly, the company felt the communication system could have been better. As a result, the radios used for the Kelowna move will be improved.

“It’s little things like that we learn every time.”

While every department will pack up their own areas in moving boxes and large crates provided by Health Care Relocations and the company will transport them from one area of KGH to another, the other side of the move—unpacking—is equally important.

Harmat-Caspers said each department has 24 hours to unpack in order to not only be ready for patients on Sunday but also so packing boxes and crates can be reused to keep the flow going during the week.

But in the end, the main focus of the move is the patients.

The move will start at 7 a.m. Sunday, during the hospital’s regular turnover time— also the traditionally slowest day of the week at KGH—and hospital officials expect to have all the patients moved by 1 p.m. at the latest.

Using volunteer “way finders” stationed along the several routes to be used to make sure no one takes a wrong turn, the move will be made with clockwork timing, patients being sent in small groups intermittently.

And, despite the size of the undertaking, visitors to the hospital will likely not notice much of a difference.

Hospitals are places were people and equipment usually move through the halls, so nothing should appear out of place.

But KGH is asking the public to only go to the hospital if it is an emergency on Sunday morning to help make the patient move go faster and smoother.

As for what will signal success, both McDonald and Harmat-Caspers agree that a smooth transition where patients are moved into their new surroundings as quickly and as effortlessly as possible in a safe and efficient manner will be the sign.

But after planning the move into the new tower and the new clinical support building for the last 14 months and carrying it out, the work for KGH planners will not stop there.

Several of the relocated departments were in the oldest part of the hospital, the Pandosy Building which is scheduled to be demolished to make room for the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

Planning for that building, and the move in 2016 will be next.

But, said Harmat-Caspers with a smile, IH has another team working on that.

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