Royal Columbian Hospital secures million dollar upgrade

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

New Westminster hospital introduces next wave of redevelopments

By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter

Every day, millions of Canadians rely on their health coverage to be there when they need it. With over 20 hospitals catering to the needs of over two million people in the Metro Vancouver region alone, wear and tear is guaranteed to take a toll on these facilities—and the Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) is no different.

In recent years, RCH has quickly gained traction as one of the busiest medical centres in the Metro Vancouver area. Founded in 1862, RCH stands as the oldest hospital in the province, and after 155 years, this New Westminster hub of health is in dire need of a new upgrade.

Recently, RCH has invested $1 million in order to upgrade their pneumatic tube system that webs across the entire facility. Items such as blood samples, medications, and various specimens are transported through various tunnels inside the building. The connection that the system provides between wards, which was once innovative, lacks modernization today. According to the New Westminster Record, the hospital staff are “urged to double bag urines and fluids before sending them through the Royal Columbian’s outdated pneumatic tube system.” In addition, a separate electric track system that carries items by means of a small vehicle inside RCH’s walls will be replaced.

Reema Prihar, RCH site operations manager, said to the New Westminster Record that the RCH’s plan is to expand and up-the-ante, specifically with the security for their future system, thus replacing the current slow and outdated system. The new upgrades will be able to save innumerable hours transporting certain specimens and blood products that previously had to be carried to their individual destinations. Notably, narcotics have not been and will not be delivered around the hospital, even with the upgrades, due to foreseen security concerns.

“While the system is equipped with security features to safely transport narcotics across the hospital, we will not be using it for that purpose at this time. Pharmacy technicians will continue to be responsible for stocking narcotics directly in the automated dispensing cabinets to ensure security,” stated Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma to the New Westminster Record.

The new system is guaranteed to save time for patients waiting for medications or test results, as paperwork can be transported via pneumatic tubes. Prihar noted that RCH is looking forward to the future updates to improve efficiency, especially since “those minutes can feel like hours for a patient.”

Upgrades are expected to begin in spring and be completed within the following year. With their new network of pneumatic tubes, 24 new stations will be added across the facility, six of them included in their upcoming RCH redevelopments.

Lately, Royal Columbian Hospital has been taking small steps towards a new health-care centre dedicated to those with mental health and substance abuse issues. Last month, Bird Design-Build Construction Inc. was announced by Fraser Health as the chosen contract for building their new facility. The new, unnamed facility is planned to replace Sherbrooke Centre, an outdated 30-bed psychiatric unit, which was once a dormitory for nurses.

“Improved mental health and substance use care is a priority area for government,” said Health Minister Terry Lake in a press release. “The new facility coming in phase one will help to address British Columbians’ increasing demand for mental health care services, advance care for seniors, and increase the capacity for outpatient care, which links people to community mental health services.”

RCH is planning to begin construction on a new 75-bed mental health and substance abuse facility soon after contracts are finalized, expected to be in the earlier half of 2017. Currently, specifics such as project cost and what agreements are entailed remain pending until contracts are complete. According to a recent press release, officials are placing a tentative finish date of winter 2019, but it should be noted that construction was originally planned to begin in 2016, when plans for the project were announced in 2015.

According to the same press release, Bird Design-Build Construction Inc. plans to include an IT network pathway, an IT communications hub, an underground parkade, and connections via tunnel and bridge to the current hospital.

“This is an important project milestone,” said Michael Marchbank, president and CEO of Fraser Health, in the press release. “It brings Fraser Health one step closer to breaking ground on our new patient-centred facility for people and families coping with acute mental health and substance use challenges.”

Both upgrades are part of a multi-year, three-phase project: the Royal Columbian Hospital Redevelopment. As part of Phase One, the budget hovers closely below $260 million and includes moving the location of the helipad and the building of a new energy centre to replace the current RCH power plant.