Close-up: KGH transition taking shape

Nothing is as constant as change. And nowhere in the Central Okanagan is that more evident than at Kelowna General Hospital these days.

Interior Health planner Dave Fowler walks through the new ambulatory care department in the Cenntenial Tower at Kelowna General Hospital. Windows will let natural light filter through both the patient corridor leading to the new operating rooms

As construction of the 33,500-square-metre Centennial Tower at KGH nears completion, the planning for the movement of several large departments into the tower is well underway. 

And it is a move that will affect the entire hospital, not just the departments that are relocating.

Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the movement of departments like emergency, renal and ambulatory care, will free up space in existing hospital buildings elsewhere on the site, to be taken over, in turn, by other departments.

Ultimately, everything in the oldest part of the hospital, the Pandosy Building, will be moved in order to demolish it and replace it with yet another new structure, the long-awaited Interior Heart and Surgical Centre. 

That addition will make KGH the fifth heart centre in the province. 

But KGH is not waiting for the heart centre to start performing heart surgeries. 

And that is part of what the new tower will provide. 

New operating rooms in the tower will allow the hospital to refit two existing operating rooms which will be used for heart surgery starting next year.

But before that can happen, the new tower, along with a new $47-million clinical support building across the street from the main KGH site, have to be completed, commissioned and occupied.

What started in 2009 with the ground breaking for the new $215-million tower, as well as a now completed parkade and a $14-million clinical campus building for the UBC Southern Interior medical school, will continue with the addition of a $47-million clinical support building and the $448-million heart centre.

But to get to those buildings, a lot of planning has had to take place for both the short- and long-term.

It’s a huge undertaking, one that involves hundreds of people, a great deal of time and coordination to make the transition a smooth one. 

And, to complicate matters, those same people spending all that time planning also have the largest and busiest hospital in the B.C. Interior to run.

According to Norma Malanowich, chief project officer for Interior Health, that has been one of the biggest challenges facing the team planning the move—the fact the work is being done in addition to their regular work running a regional hospital.

And she is quick to credit the many department and team mangers, doctors, nurses and others who are working on the project.

So far the project has run remarkably smoothly given its size and scope and is even slightly ahead of schedule, said Malanowich.

Graham Construction, the company building the tower, will hand it over to Interior Health Feb. 14, 2012 and the official “move-in” is slated for May 2012.

•••

The expansion at KGH is currently the largest public works project outside the Lower Mainland. And it shows no signs of letting up.

While the tower is nearing completion, other projects to follow mean there is still six more years of construction to go.

While building the six-storey tower has been a massive undertaking, the planning involved for the actual move into the building has been just as big.

“This is an endeavour that is bigger than any one of us has been involved in,” said Malanowich, who not only oversees the work in Kelowna but also the addition of a tower at Vernon’s Jubilee Hospital.

Along with the managers, team leaders and a host of others, it’s Malanowich’s job to make sure the move is made as smoothly as possible, within a shockingly short time frame and with no interruptions to the health services provided to patients at KGH.

Incredibly, the entire physical move is slated to take place over just five days. 

That will mean equipment, personnel, supplies—everything.

Malanowich said the initial thought of phasing the move was dropped after the consultant hired to assist with the task recommended it be done as quickly as possible to mitigate problems.

Health Relocations, a Canadian company that has assisted hospitals with similar moves across North America in the past, is considered the expert when it comes to a relocation like this.

But in the case of the hospitals’ busiest department, emergency, the timeframe for the move is even shorter.

According to ER boss and medical director Dr. Mike Ertel, his department will start operation in its existing location one day and finish the next day in entirely new quarters. 

The one-day move will be a massive undertaking.

“Basically our whole department will be bubble-wrapped and shipped over,” he said, admitting while he is excited about the new larger space—four times as large as the existing emergency department—the move is providing logistical challenges and creating a level of anxiety in many of his staff.

To help prepare the emergency room staff for their new digs, KGH has been offering tours to staff who will be moving to the new tower so they can see for themselves the areas where they will be working.

Last year, the emergency department saw 55,000 people come through its doors. With the move to a larger area, hospital officials expect that number to grow by as much as 10 per cent next year. 

Like all aspects of the expansion, the addition to KGH is expected to satisfy the anticipated needs of the hospital until 2025. 

The change from the current, cramped emergency department to the first floor of the new tower is expected to be one of the most visible changes to the public.

Currently, while the hospital’s streaming system for having patients seen by a doctor faster is working well, the lack of space inside the department has forced it to have patients sitting in chairs in hallways for hours. 

But with much more room and a modern facility, those days are coming to an end, say KGH officials.

The new building and new department has also prompted more people to want to work at KGH, said Ertel.

While he has hired two new doctors to join the 16 he already has on staff, he said he has a pile of resumés on his desk from other doctors who want to work here.

“There’s no doubt the new building is a drawing card,” he said.

Ertel added the search for new doctors started early here because of competition from other parts of the country. A new hospital being build in southern Alberta was considered a major competitor to KGH.

In addition to the new emergency department, the Centennial Tower will also feature a new ambulatory department on the second floor. 

Like emergency, that area is expected to handle one of the highest patient volumes as it will be where procedures such as day surgeries and other non-admitting clinical duties will be carried out. 

The floor will also house the new ophthalmology and respiratory departments.

The third floor will house the renal dialysis unit, as well as five new operating rooms, part of the new surgical suites. The addition of those operating rooms will allow KGH to refit the two existing operating rooms that will be used for heart surgery starting next year. With angioplasties already being done at the hospital, the cardiac care program will expand even before the heart centre building is completed in 2017.

The fourth floor of the new tower will be mainly a mechanical floor for the building, but it will also house a lounge and sleeping areas for medical students working at KGH now that it has become a full teaching hospital as part of the UBC medical school.

The fifth floor will be used for the new inpatient psychiatry unit and the sixth floor will be partly used for new inpatient beds and allow for future expansion at KGH. 

Originall,y the top two floors were to be roughed in and used for expansion later, but additional money from the regional health district allowed them to be opened right away.

In addition to the new departments, a helipad has been built on the roof, meaning medical arrivals and evacuations will no longer have to go to the airport and be transferred to the hospital by ambulance.

The tower will be linked to the clinical support building across Pandosy Street by an elevated, enclosed walkway at the third floor level.

The support building will house the hospital’s laboratory and other support services. It is slated to open in conjunction with the Centennial tower next spring.

•••

To many who pass it, the new tower looks finished on the outside. But inside it is still a hive of activity as the deadline looms.

In addition to the finishings expected in any building to be used by the public, the fact it is a hospital requires a myriad of other technical considerations. 

Once installed those technical aspects, as well as everything else, will need to be tested during the building’s extensive commissioning.

Once completed, it will take several months for the building to be fully tested to make sure it is ready for the hand over in February. 

And then there is the massive amount of equipment that has to be moved from one location to another and the new equipment that cannot be installed until after the work crews clean up and go home. Those installations will take place next spring before the opening.

Despite the scale of the job, Interior Health planner Dave Fowler said construction has gone well with no major problems. 

Sitting on a massive concrete base, the tower may appear attached to the hospital’s other tower but it is not. 

It is only connected to it. That’s because the existing tower was not built to the same seismic standards—rules have changed in recent years —so it could not be attached without having to retrofit the existing tower. 

Walking through the new building it’s clear there will be much more space for individual departments.

Wide corridors, large areas that will be nursing stations, waiting rooms, surgical suites, a new towering lobby and other open areas abound.

As a LEED gold building, it is being built to be as energy efficient as possible, even providing the option of natural light for the new operating rooms as well as in many other areas of the building.

According to Graham Construction officials, 250 workers have worked on site.

The addition of the tower, as well as the other new buildings, is part of an eight-year construction project started in 2009 at KGH and scheduled to run until 2017. 

It is expected to solidify KGH’s place as the major tertiary hospital in the B.C. Interior.

“It’s a very exciting time for us,” said Tracy MacDonald, health services administrator for Interior Health and woman in charge of KGH.

“The project is called building patient care, and that’s what this is all really about.”

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

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