Premier Doug Ford visits West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in 2018 to announce his government’s commitment to building a new hospital.
The Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Board of Directors has given the go-ahead on a plan that would address safety concerns and maintain limited surgical and obstetrical services at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH).
The plan is to ensure that the hospital is meeting the appropriate standards of care for their patients.
Dr. Michael Stacey, Executive Vice President Academic and Chief Medical Executive for HHS, said that his main concern about the renovation plan is the safety surrounding cesarean sections.
“We wouldn’t be able to guarantee that we could get a mom who is in labour going into some distress, either herself or the baby, that needed an emergency cesarean section,” Stacey said. “What we have to do in that situation is reduce the level of risk of the moms who come to have their babies at West Lincoln to try and reduce the chance of actually needing to have that urgent cesarean section.”
Provincial guidelines state that around 80 per cent of women are considered low risk. Stacey said these women are offered to be moved to the surrounding hospitals such as the Niagara Health System in St. Catharines or McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) in Hamilton. He also said they are working on a plan that addresses the issue and he hopes the model will be developed and agreed upon by the end of June.
WLMH said it would be implementing a low-risk obstetrical model that would have limited emergency caesarian sections until the two operating rooms are fully functional again.
Another concern is that WLMH has a lack of on-call nurses in operating rooms, especially on weekends. The hospital hopes to hire more nurses to try to alleviate the pressure the shortage has caused.
“The redirection of our obstetrical services on weekends is in response to a shortage of available on-call nursing for the operating rooms. We have made recently a series of hires across HHS that includes three new staff members that will be joining our team,” said Dr. Mat Noble Wohlgemut, WLMH Interim Medical Lead.
The safety plan approved by the board calls for a temporary conversion in July to remodel one of the two operating rooms into a storage space for sterile surgical supplies. The hospital would then function with only one full working operating room while this is underway.
The sterile supply storage space in the obstetrical area would also be renovated in the fall. The emergency department and other services, including outpatient clinics, would operate as usual.
“We’re looking at a series of options with the support of our physicians and staff here at the site,” said Noble Wohlgemut. “We have been looking at a series of different renovation options, and now we’re costing out and looking at the complexity and the timing of those. We’re trying to design solutions that would have the least amount of impact of the site in terms of time and as well, being the most effective use of funds.”
After the remodels are complete, the hospital would go back to having two fully functional operating rooms, as well as bring back endoscopy services which were moved out because the hospital was not meeting standards for equipment reprocessing.
The temporary conversions come ahead of a major reconstruction project to rebuild a new hospital site adjacent to the current one.
Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for the Niagara West riding said the Ford government is still on board with the rebuilding of the WLMH. The project was mentioned twice in the 2019 budget.
“As far as I know, [the project] has been moving forward very quickly and there is an urgency to it given the state of the building, given that the community’s desire to see the new build up and running as soon as possible,” Oosterhoff said. “When the premier came down, he talked about making sure that we have shovels in the ground before the next election and that’s still what we intend to see completed.”
According to Noble Wohlgemut, there is no official budget for the rebuilding of the hospital at this time. He estimated the number is in the millions of dollars, adding that he considers it an investment.
“This is a safe, sound and reasonable plan which will allow us to protect our unique model of care,” Wohlgemut said. “While we know there will be some service disruptions, it is the right thing to do until our new hospital is ready.”
Elena De Luigi is a graduate of the Humber College Journalism program and a Niagara Independent reporter.