After nearly a decade of plans, Haida Gwaii’s new hospital is days from its official opening at 9 a.m. this Thursday.
Kerry Laidlaw, a long-time nurse and site manager for the Queen Charlotte hospital, is already hearing the first reviews.
“I’m hoping we get the kind of response we got from the SHIP elders,” he says.
Elders in the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP) toured the new hospital a few weeks ago so they could give Haida language names to some of its special places — everything from the new, larger maternity suite with a birthing tub to the palliative care room with a visitors’ suite and sun deck overlooking the ocean.
“They said the space was beautiful, they said it was respectful, and they thanked us,” said Laidlaw.
“I’m hoping everyone has a positive experience as a patient here.”
Patients, staff, and equipment have already moved from the old hospital into the new one — the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre – Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay.
Inside, patients in the eight acute and eight long-term care rooms will find more privacy — no more two to a room, or seven to a bathroom. There are also new gathering spaces to meet family and friends.
“The long-term care is actually in the best location in the building,” said Peter Kallos, project manager for the $50-million hospital that broke ground in 2013.
Under the big peaked roof on the hospital’s south side are lounges with tall windows and a long glass balcony views of Skidegate Inlet and the village below — common areas for patients who spend the most time in hospital.
“Those decks are kind of a luxury,” said Kallos.
“But I mean, why wouldn’t we do that in a site as beautiful as Queen Charlotte?”
From outside, the pitched roof and balcony give the hospital a Pacific Northwest feel, but that’s not all that makes it stand out.
Inside, Kallos said patients will find exactly the state-of-art features a big city hospital might have.
Aside from public WiFi and digital X-rays, the hospital includes a hands-free, voice-activated communication system for staff that Kallos called a bit Star Trek, and very helpful.
All the acute and long-term care rooms also come with powered patient lifts, making it easy to move people from a chair to a bed or a gurney.
“This is for patient and staff safety,” said Kallos.
“You don’t need to have four weightlifter orderlies to move somebody.”
With about three times the floorspace of the old hospital, the new building has a dedicated, naturally-lit and private area for chemotherapy, and a bio-safety cabinet for mixing chemo drugs.
There are also dedicated spaces for mental health and addictions counselling, some of which can be used by community groups in the evenings.
There is a seclusion room for patients in acute mental distress — one with soft walls, natural light, a view of a clock, private entry, and optional access to a more conventional hospital room— all to meet new standards that are designed to prevent suicide and harm to staff.
To the northwest of the building, artist and builder Arthur Pearson is building a Haida-style mortuary house with big cedar beams.
“Most hospitals have a morgue tucked away in the basement,” said Kallos, but the mortuary house is an inviting building on a hillside, with room for community gatherings.
“That’s something we’re very proud of.”
It may be years away, but once the old hospital is demolished and all the new sidewalks,retaining walls, and driveways are finished, a special base and support will be installed by the hospital to one day hold a Wellness Pole.
Years before the new hospital’s construction was awarded to Bouygues Building Canada, Kerry Laidlaw and a team of nurses, doctors, dieticians, pharmacists, lab workers and others got thinking about their ideal floor plan.
Talking with patients and working with architects, they slid coloured squares around basic plans to see how the hospital and health clinic areas might overlap.
One of the key things the public valued was confidentiality, said Laidlaw.
“In a small town, people say, ‘You know I park out front the hospital and everybody wants to know how my baby is,” he said.
At the same time, the relatively small hospital had to be open enough so most of its upper level could be supervised from a single nursing station — aside from the eight hours a day that the lower-level lab, pharmacy, and health clinic are open, there can be as few as two or three staff to monitor the hospital overnight.
Likewise, the team had to weigh the benefit of having windows that open against a climate-controlled building that meets LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) environmental standards.
In the end, Laidlaw said, they came up with “a compromise of about a dozen No. 1 priorities.”
As it happens, the chosen design-builder for the project, Bouygues, mainly adopted the staff’s dream plan.
Rather than lining up in a crammed corridor, people waiting to see a doctor, or for medicine or blood work can wait in a lounge.
There are separate ‘front-of-house’ and ‘back-of-house’ corridors for patients and staff, and also several entrances and exits — a design that allows not only for privacy, but for better security as well.
Laidlaw said the design group spent years “what iff-ing” their plan.
Some of the “what-ifs” involved emergencies.
What if firefighters come in and need to be decontaminated?
What if there is a major earthquake, and the power goes down?
To answer that scenario, the hospital was built 15 per cent stronger than B.C.’s top seismic code— it is designed to be a rally point for first responders, perhaps one of the last buildings left standing, with generators that can run all its power and water systems for two weeks.
Other “what-ifs” were more day-to-day.
“If I’m in the emergency department,” Laidlaw said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could get to a toilet with my backless gown without having to go through a public lobby?”
They may have to wait for backless gowns, but all Haida Gwaiians are invited to join the official opening of the new hospital at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 24 that will include a good-bye to the old hospital.
“You have to pay respects to the building that’s there,” said Kallos.
“It survived the 7.8 earthquake. And the nice thing about the older building was the flexibility init, something we’ve tried to do with the new building.”
Recognizing that the hospital is opening nearly a year later than planned, Kallos said Haida Gwaii residents have been very understanding.
“I just can’t say enough about the community, and how it’s pulled together through things like Hospital Day,” he said.
In other words, even before it opens, the new Haida Gwaii hospital is full of patience.