Unbearably hot hospitals

There’s more trouble at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Today we learned that the fan which powers the cooling system for the VG’s Intensive Care Unit broke. In the week since it broke staff had to jury-rig solutions, like moving smaller air conditioning units into the ICU. Adding units isn’t an ideal situation because of the clutter and potential noise they bring to an environment which is already space challenged and needs serenity for recovery.

Reports say the main cooling system’s fan broke. That happens. Equipment breaks. But the executive in charge says it’s not an off-the-shelf piece, it has to manufactured so it will be some time in August before a replacement arrives.

That’s a very calm attitude, but then one suspects this executive works in an air conditioned office. I question whether the Nova Scotia Health Authority or Department of Health take the impact of extreme heat into consideration for patient comfort and recovery, as a hazard to health, and for the comfort and efficiency of front-line staff.

In the last seven days 54 Quebeckers have died from the extreme heat. New Brunswick has issued heat warnings for the province. Nova Scotia? Nothing.

In 2012 a Toronto-based Nova Scotian executive complained to the management of the Valley care facility his mother was in and when ignored he approached the Department of Health. He wrote, “My mother had been moved there [the care facility] after discharge from VRH to recover from a stroke. The first day there was one of those hot and humid Valley scorchers with the temperature well into the thirties. There was no air conditioning in the building and I was told by the administrator that I shouldn’t be concerned. “Old people don’t mind the heat.” This was the same summer that thousands of elderly died in European heat waves. I took it to a senior official with the provincial ministry concerned with standards of care in nursing homes. Speaking to me from her climate-controlled office in seaside Dartmouth, she seemed unaware that it actually gets quite hot in parts of the province. She assured me her team took care to enforce the rules requiring sufficient heat in the winter, but summer heat–well that’s not a real problem. Very dismissive and out of touch. I installed our own air conditioner in the room.”

Our reality is that health care executives move with sloth-like speed when it comes to maintenance and repair. For decades the water at the VG was so toxic you couldn’t even wash your hands in it. And while Janet Knox was CEO of the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority, numerous problems with VRH occurred and took months to repair, whether it was a hot water tap to the revolving front door of the hospital – which breaks on an annual basis. The hot water tap took 19 weeks to replace! If you can’t fix a tap, why would we trust you with whole buildings and a system full of real estate?

Fast forward to April 2015: hundreds of surgeries were cancelled because of a problem with a Halifax surgical sterilizer. The problem was identified on April 11th, yet two weeks later, on the 24th the senior director at the QEII couldn’t tell the CBC where there were other sterilizers and how long it would take to repair or replace the suspect unit. Two weeks into the problem and she didn’t know how many sterilizers existed in the province or their location! As I pointed out she could have checked neighbouring hospitals in Halifax and Dartmouth as well as the medical and dental schools at Dalhousie. and various research facilities in the city. In their bureaucratic way, the NSHA had only started to “reach out” to others. Had one executive stooped to placing a few phone calls that could have been answered in an hour and hundreds of procedures could have taken place as scheduled.

In November 2017 VRH’s dishwashers broke. The hospital went several months calling in staff to hand-wash dishes before that was solved.

And now NSHA is prepared to wait a month or more to replace part of a cooling system in the hottest time of year during what is predicted to be the hottest summer in years. There’s never any sense of urgency or out-of-the-box thinking with the NSHA.

For instance, anyone with appliances to repair knows it’s cheaper to replace the whole unit than trying to find someone to fix it. Has the NSHA looked at that option? As for having a new fan manufactured, are they dealing with the original supplier or considered going local? Nova Scotia has an extensive ship-building and ship-repair industry. There are fabricators who could quickly craft a fan, which is not that different from a propeller. Has the NSHA looked to Lunenburg or other ship-building centres for a fast fix? Couldn’t they ask a company like the Irving shipyards, a few blocks away, for a fast favour? If we can build a battleship from scratch, surely we craft a part for a fan.

The NSHA does not appear to be a solution-driven organization.







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2 Responses to Unbearably hot hospitals

  1. ausca says:

    “…health care executives move with slot-like speed…” Sloth-like speed perhaps?
    Bumped into Gary Burrill the other day and emphasized again the importance about having the Auditor General go through the management and financial practices at NSHA and IWK. He was told the main problem there was the “systems engineering” of the place. I would have thought that management should have overseen that and been responsible for it’s less than stellar state. Either way, a properly resourced AG investigation might explain a great deal about why things only seem to get worse, and perhaps provide recommendation about how we might improve it – if the political will were there.

    • Sloth-like – thanks for catching that. It’s a challenge at times to edit yourself.

      Interesting explanation about “systems engineering”. There is no impetus for fast movement because Janet Knox and Lynn Harrigan are within two years of retirement. They’re gliding to the gravy train. Massive pensions and then lucrative consulting contracts paying “market rates” for casual work…

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