Martin van den Hemel
The provincial government announced Thursday its commitment to replace the long-awaited patient care tower at Richmond Hospital.
While actual construction won’t begin until closer to 2020, Premier John Horgan told an eager crowd packed into the hospital atrium that the business plan will proceed, and be completed, in the next 12 to 18 months.
“Richmond has been waiting for good news about replacing the original tower, which has served the community well since the 1960s, but is now out of date,” Horgan said. “We are working to meet the needs of a rapidly growing community by moving forward with our partners to fund this redevelopment project. This new acute-care tower will modernize Richmond Hospital for the coming decades, and bring quality public health care to people who live and work here.”
Richmond Hospital Foundation president and CEO Natalie Meixner was elated with the news.
“This is what our donors and our community have been waiting for. Today’s news is re-energizing. It’s a reflection of what’s possible in this community, and we’re optimistic about reaching our campaign goals. We look forward to greater engagement with philanthropists in the community.”
The announcement to replace the aging hospital structure follows years of angst.
Opened in 1966, Richmond Hospital today has about 231 beds, serving Richmond, South Vancouver and Delta, as well as people using Vancouver International Airport, and BC Ferries.
The hospital’s original tower has six storeys and 108 beds. It is home to surgical suites, in-patient units, a mammography clinic, cancer care, medical imaging and a pharmacy as well as administrative, academic and support services.
When elevators in the Richmond Hospital’s acute care tower suddenly stopped working one day a couple of years ago, administrators were forced to think quickly. They turned to a unique source for help: the movie industry.
Recognizing the importance of getting the lifts back in working order as soon as possible, but unable to readily access replacement parts, the hospital was fortunately able to turn to the film trade for suitable cables until the elevators could be permanently repaired.
Meixner said there is a growing list of challenges associated with the aging structure which, built in 1966, is well past its lifespan and bursting at the seams.
She said the tower’s building envelope, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are all failing and seismic capacity now meets only 17 per cent of current standards.
“Our understanding is if there was an earthquake of 5.9 or greater (on the Richter scale), the building would be subject to collapse and, because the operating rooms are built below the flood plain, also to liquefaction,” she said.
Last year, the hospital foundation commissioned an independent public opinion poll to better understand what citizens of Richmond felt was the most important publicly-funded infrastructure needs. Eighty-five per cent of the general population placed a new hospital tower among the top two projects, and 52 per cent rated it as the No. 1 need.
Following a substantial gift from Dr. Tony and Mrs. Nancy Yurkovich, along withmore than 10 other families including the Greczmiels, and organizations, the foundation is on its way to contributing $50 million to the construction of a new hospital tower.
Meixner said the deteriorating conditions at Richmond Hospital are being aggravated by the city’s dramatically increasing population which is now more than 218,000. The population growth, led by one of the fastest growing seniors populations in B.C. which she said is expected to double to 65,000 by 2030, is putting an additional squeeze on already minimal space.
When Richmond Hospital opened in 1966 it had 132 beds for a city of 50,000 people. Today, it has 233 beds for 218,000 residents. Seventy percent of hospital beds are used by seniors.
“During the winter season when people have the flu, and with so many people falling this past winter (amplified by the snow and cold temperatures), at times we had five patients to a room,” she said. “For anyone who’s been in hospital, that standard of care is not up to today’s expectations.”
Meixner said the risk of infection spreading is also an issue, noting the current standard in hospitals to help infection control is to have 80 per cent single occupancy rooms.
At Richmond Hospital the majority of rooms are triple and quad occupancy, with only 10 per cent single rooms.
The upcoming business-plan phase will finalize details such as the scope of the new facility and budget.
Vancouver Coastal Health president and CEO Mary Ackenhurst said Richmond is blessed to have an “incredible” team of doctors, nurses and staff with outstanding expertise. She said it’s important they have the right space, equipment and facilities to support that.
“We expect the new tower will not only increase the level of service we provide, but support new, robust models of care that reflect the diverse needs of the community.”