Realigning health care should extend to buildings and ideas

Finally, we’re starting to hear some word about the mothballed Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro. This article in The Chronicle Herald

quotes the Colchester East Hants Health Authority CEO saying, “At the moment there is not any kind of definitive plan for the future of the building.” Why not? The building has been empty for two years. In 2005 the Province granted approval for a new hospital in Truro. The health authority’s own press release

says the hospital was scheduled for completion in 2010. It was two years behind in opening. The health authority and Ministry of Health and Wellness have had a decade to formulate a plan for the old hospital and haven’t.

This lethargy and inaction is illustrative of the consistent on-going failure of health care executives to act. They are more comfortable reacting and damn costs and consequences.

The article doesn’t mention it, but we will soon hear the word “asbestos” as the reason that the health authority can’t do anything with the building. According to The Herald, the hospital was built in three stages in the 1920s, 1960s and 1980s so the whole building won’t have asbestos. Wherever the asbestos is in the former hospital, in the 30 years since asbestos was banned as a construction material in Canada, its presence in Colchester wasn’t deemed enough of a hazard to vacate patients and close the facility.

So, while the building is empty, remove the asbestos and renovate the building. Surely that can be done for less than the cost of demolition and the cost of any future replacement space needed, and it can quickly address some of our other pressing issues.

As for future use, why not a multi-purpose complex with space for a clinic, doctors offices (the province has launched a recruiting drive), long-term nursing care beds, as well as some innovative small self-contained apartments for elderly or physically challenged adults who, while they can care for themselves, no longer want the solitude, maintenance or cost of home ownership? We hear about older Nova Scotians who need help. We don’t hear about older Nova Scotians who don’t need help, who are out volunteering in their communities, and who like to keep busy and therefore would be available to help others. In many small communities and rural areas there are people who are starved for companionship and society, and would do more if they didn’t have to drive in storms or at night. Many of these people could be willing to volunteer in the long-term care facility, providing companionship, reading to and engaging in the life-enhancing activities such facilities provide residents.

In Kentville, there is a building across the parking lot from Valley Regional Hospital called Fidelis House. Originally sponsored by the Lions Club, Fidelis House is a type of B&B for family members and friends of hospital patients. It’s a convenient, affordable way for them to be near their hospitalized loved one. An option might be to convert part of the old Truro hospital into a type of Fidelis House for the benefit of those family members who must travel a great distance to be near hospitalized family members and friends. They wouldn’t be across the parking lot, like Kentville, but they would be closer and able to provide that vital support a patient needs.

We are realigning an entire health system, now is the time to break away from old notions of what we can do, must do, where we do it and when. Enough time has passed. A new plan should be announced on April 1st to match the realignment of the entire system.

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