As the old Fort St. John hospital enters its golden years, it is set to retire on Thursday.
After planning for this move for the past few years, Angela De Smit, North Peace health service administrator, and Betty Morris, Northern Health’s chief operating officer in the North East, have executed the final planning stages of the move to the new facility.
“We’re estimating that we should be feeding the patients breakfast in the old hospital and they’ll be eating lunch in the new hospital,” said De Smit outside the old hospital.
The move is not without its problems.
She noted that on move day, staff will be increased by 50 per cent to support the two facilities.
Currently, in the lead up to move day, De Smit said staff is doing well.
“The staff on site – we have quite a large manpower that has come up from Prince George and throughout the Northern Health Authority… they’re working extremely long hours in order to get us there to make sure that all of our equipment is up and going and all of our infrastructure will be ready for us on patient move day,” she said.
The cutover, which will take place at 6 a.m. on Thursday, is the time when outpatients must start going to the new facility for their medical needs.
“If you’re coming even at two or three minutes after (six), you need to go to the new facility,” said De Smit.
Once the cutover happens, departments will be deployed one by one until the transfer is complete.
The first patient is scheduled to move at 8 a.m.
“There will be quite a procession of vehicles that will be leaving through the emergency entrance,” said De Smit.
“We have four extra ambulances that are coming to the community, as well as the critical transport team that BC Ambulance is providing for the ICU and potential emerg patients that need to be transferred and they’ll be leaving this facility.
“Patients, we’re estimating, are going to be moving every four minutes,” she continued. “It’s going to be a high traffic area on 98th, and then we’re cutting over to 112 Ave and then going directly to the new facility.”
De Smit said they’re asking for the public to avoid that route on Thursday.
“The City is going to be blocking 98 Street from 100 to 101 Avenues, so it will allow us to stage the ambulances and the buses we will be using,” she said.
It’s hard to know exactly how many patients will be in the hospital needing to be transferred on Thursday, but De Smit estimates it will be between 30 and 35.
“Every day, starting on Monday, we’ll be doing a bed mapping in terms of what are the patients in the hospital and what are their care needs in terms of oxygen, IVs, those types of things, and as we get closer, we’ll be updating those lists,” she said. “Depending on the seriousness of their condition, we’ll be deciding which ones have to go by ambulance and which ones will be transported by wheelchairs and on to a bus,” she continued.
De Smit noted that it’s commonplace to transport patients by ambulance with IVs and oxygen and machines.
“We’re prepared for it,” she said. “It’s a benefit to have the critical care transfer team to help us out with any of those patients as well.”
De Smit said that critical equipment will be transported at the same time as the patients are moving.
She noted that the last visiting clinic in the old hospital was on Friday. She also said that patients have not been booked for in-hospital appointments for this week, particularly on Thursday.
They’re looking for the public to not come for any “routine labs or x-rays” unless it’s an emergency on June 21.
“If it’s a routine test… just allow us the opportunity (that we need) to have a safe move,” said De Smit. “We are extending our hours for the lab department on the Wednesday before until 7 o’clock at night.”
She said they usually see between 100 and 130 patients on a daily basis through their outpatient lab.
“We know that it will be a challenge when they’re not able to come at all, so that’s why we’re extending the hours,” she said. “Then we move to new hours in the new facility (which are longer).”
To prevent confusion, De Smit said Northern Health put a big billboard in front of the old hospital that has been counting down the days until the move.
“We know we don’t just provide services to Fort St. John, but the 35,000 residents that are around our community, as well, we do have a high tourism and this is starting to get into our tourism season,” she said.
“We’ve been putting lots of advertisements, putting it out in the emails, into the newspapers,” she explained.
She also noted that on move day, there will be staff at the front entrance and the emergency entrance handing out maps to the new hospital.
After Thursday, the old hospital’s retirement plans are still in question.
Morris said the steps to leave a capital asset behind are still being taken, including First Nations consultation and inter-governmental discussions.
Once those steps are complete, there will be a consultation with the City.
“We are not that far yet because we’re still in the early stages,” said Morris.
She did guarantee that the building would be secure because it currently contains a number of pieces of equipment.
Also, specialist physicians who have offices in the building will still occupy a part of the building for a while until they find a suitable new location.
“Most of the building will be closed and we’ll be maintaining it and carefully watching that it’s secure,” said Morris.
The old hospital currently has a helipad, while the new one doesn’t contain one. This has been the cause of some local controversy, particularly from those in the oil and gas industry.
“We do not have a helipad at the new facility,” said Morris. “We do believe that the airport is close and that the best place to land an aircraft of any kind is at a monitored airport.”
She said that the community, however, is “quite vested” in further discussion surrounding the helipad.
“Right now, we need to focus every ounce of our energy on getting this place open and operating,” said Morris.
“Later in the fall, we have assured the public that we will go back and discuss the helipad further.”