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Qikiqtani General Hospital will take patients in a few weeks

After 11 years and $64 million: a hospital


The new Qikiqtani General Hospital finally opened in Iqaluit on Friday, Oct. 19, after 11 years of planning and $64 million spent, with a fitting prayer.

"We pray for the staff, and that everything will work in the new hospital," intoned Rev. Mike Gardener inside the new building's atrium, where paintings of angular fish and birds sweep up three storeys to a skylight that let in pale grey clouds.

Moments later a loud thud echoed across the room, after a plaque to commemorate the building's opening crashed to the shiny new floor.

Laughter rippled through the crowd of Inuit dignitaries, hospital staff and other curious onlookers.

Hospital administrators probably said another prayer shortly afterwards, asking that the faulty adhesive attached to the plaque be the biggest of their worries as they prepare for the arrival of patients in several weeks.

Hospital bosses may also be muttering another prayer offered by Gardener: "We pray for more staff in the new hospital."

Until this wish comes true, and the hospital is able to recruit more nurses and doctors, only 20 of the new hospital's 35 beds will be in use.

That's one more bed than what's in use in the old hospital, which stands adjacent to the new building and will continue to be used for clinics held by general practitioners and visiting specialist doctors and a pharmacy. The new building will handle everything else, including the emergency room and all surgery.

Still, Lloyd Searcy, the hospital director, says 20 beds is enough to keep pace with patient demand over the next five years.

He also pointed out the new rooms are more comfortable than the old ones, offer some pleasant views of Koojjesse Inlet and all include wheelchair-accessable toilets.

There are also six, rather than four, beds for day-patients – people released from hospital the day of their surgery.

And the new hospital has two new operating rooms, but one one will be used until, again, they hire more doctors and nurses.

But there's one big demand the new building will immediately answer.

There are twice as many birthing rooms – two, instead of four – because, as Searcy understated, at the hospital "we deliver a few babies."

Last year 369 babies were delivered at the old hospital. And this June, nine babies were delivered in just 48 hours, Searcy said.

The birthing rooms have enough space for the mother and child, special lights, and an incubator. They also have faux-wood floors, and wooden cabinets that hide medical gases and other equipment, "to make it more homey," Searcy said.

Another new feature, set off from a wing of rooms for patients that will remain empty until the hospital is fully staffed, is a palliative care room to hold dying patients and their families.

It's furnished with the same faux-wood floor, along with a fridge, microwave, reclining chair for guests and television set.

Other new features are designed to ease the safety concerns of nurses who will work in the building.

Black globes that bulge from the ceiling conceal video cameras. The number of security guards has been increased, from one to two guards, after the nurses' union expressed concerns the hospital may not be safe.

There are also several special rooms reserved for violent patients.

These isolation rooms have no beds, chair, or anything else that could be used as a weapon.

Walls are reinforced with steel, rather than just drywall. Fire sprinkler heads snap off to prevent patients from hanging themselves. Fluorescent lights are set into the wall so they can't be removed for use as a weapon.

The washrooms of these rooms are also built differently, because, Searcy said, "the people who stay in these rooms have a tendency to rip the sinks off the walls."

Nurses are to be given panic buttons to carry with them, which, when pressed, will call security for help.

These safety measures are meant to ease concerns of nurses who are at times threatened, hit, bitten and spat at by aggressive patients.

Other safety measures are intended to lower the risk of diseases spreading through the hospital.

Several rooms are built to hold patients with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. Air inside these rooms is kept at lower pressure than the rest of the building. Put a hand over the doorframe, and one feels air slowly being sucked inside.

"That means that bugs won't mix with anyone else," Searcy said.

The baseboards are rounded, and less likely to collect dust. Heaters have been moved from the floors to the ceiling. Both these measures are supposed to lessen the odds of illnesses being spread from one patient to another, or to staff.

Some of the old building's structural shortcomings were among the reasons why the hospital lost its national accreditation two years ago.

Another reason was the amount of incomplete paperwork. Searcy said that's also being improved.

Last November the hospital knew of 779 incomplete pieces of paperwork. Last week, they knew of less than 200, Searcy said.

Searcy says he's confident the hospital will be accredited again by next autumn. But by then, he'll be gone. Searcy departs his post as hospital director in February.

The new hospital also offers a bigger lab to run tests for the hospital, and the rest of the Baffin's nurse stations.

Not all diagnostic equipment will be in place when the building opens. The new x-ray equipment is expected to arrive in November.

And the new hospital will lack a CAT scan. But, "If you have a couple million dollars, we promise to use it on the CAT scan," Searcy said.

The Qikiqtani General Hospital has been a long time coming. And it cost a lot of money to build.

Planning of the new hospital started more than a decade ago, in 1996. The building's total cost is $64 million. That amount includes everything from hiring an architect to the finishing details – such as the plaque that fell off the wall.

Of the construction cost, $1 million went to Inuit labour.

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