The aging General Hospital at HSC is only redeemed by the people who care for the patients

Dorothy Dobbie Issues in the News
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the News

It’s 7:30 in the morning and the day shift has just checked in. The patients in the ward are still sleeping, or trying too, because down the hall, several rooms are being “renovated” and the sound of construction drills pierce the morning stillness. For some reason, drilling is a morning occupation for this crew, which has been working with socialist efficiency for months, room by room. Apparently, they will be at it for many months more, tying up a trio of rooms and twice that many beds as they go.

The “renovations” have to do with new wiring and replacing the former Shaw cable televisions with the installation of MTS wireless, flat-screened televisions that don’t work. The TVs run 15 to 20 minutes and then they freeze, making it impossible to watch anything without constant interruption. WiFi is intermittent so using a tablet or anything else on-line is very sketchy.

The contractors are also replacing the lighting system, removing the former eye-saving, vertical wall fixtures and replacing them with a complicated overhead series of lights that require technology-savvy users to manage: one, two or three clicks and you might get the light you want, but the combination is anything but reliable.

Low-flow, touchless water fixtures are also being installed, but the ancient germ-laden sinks and stained countertops have been left in place. Nor have the bathrooms been upgraded and that is a shame because they are too small to be used by anyone with an intravenous pole so the nurses are forced to bring commodes and urinals to bedsides. Obsolete showers go unused, too small to accommodate any but the most compact of people.

The rooms in this ancient wing of HSC were built when people were much smaller, so it’s difficult for health care workers to squeeze into bed-sides to carry out their tasks. Visitors are very much in the way and the former visitor’s lounge is now a storage room. Even in the two-bed rooms, space is tight; the four-bed wards are even more difficult to maneuver, although the washrooms are better configured there.

Unit aid, Virna, gives patient Glenn a shave. The staff are unfailingly courteous and caring and make the patient’s experience bearable in the tight quarters at HSC.
Unit aid, Virna, gives patient Glenn a shave. The staff are unfailingly courteous and caring and make the patient’s experience bearable in the tight quarters at HSC.

On the bright side, the personnel on the ward are warm, caring and efficient; the real care in this hospital takes place here, with these front line workers. They are often all that makes a stay here bearable. The nurses and their aides are unsung heroes, often more knowledgeable with ongoing patient care than the docs who swan through once a day or so.

For the most part, everyone works hard – there is not a lot of time in this busy ward for goofing off. Patients are very ill and their care is demanding work. The staff tries to respond as quickly as possible to the ringing bells and the constant requests of family members. They are polite and helpful, demonstrating concern, supported by competence.

The hospital is also clean. The housekeeping staff keeps at it, washing floors, wiping down doors, disposing of garbage.

Administrative decisions are another matter. Everything in the hospital is prepackaged and disposable. Only linens are reused, although it may be that scissors and other utensils could end up in an autoclave somewhere for recycling. The prepackaging promotes rampant waste because it assumes that the same amount of product will be required in every case. Once a package has been breached, it is no longer viable and the rest goes into the trash. Is the use of these systems more efficient or just the product of a good sales pitch? It is hard to believe that it is cheaper.

Food is simply unappetizing, unappealing and often inedible. The Health Sciences Centre apparently operates its own kitchens but not much is prepared there. At least half to three quarters (and sometimes more) of every meal comes in a container: prepackaged puddings, cookies, bagels, breakfast cereals, fruits and juices, yogurt and the ever present Boost, clearly needed to ramp up the nutrition levels of the rest of the tray. Instant mashed potatoes instead of the real thing and frozen vegetables are staples in the kitchen. Frequently, even the odour of the tray is a turn-off. Fish smells and tastes fishy. Meats are so over-processed as to be unrecognizable. If fresh vegetables are served they are so overcooked as to be unpalatable.

Many trays go back to the kitchen untouched. How can anyone recover without adequate nutrition?

When it comes to food, visitors fare no better. The so-called 24-hour food court (only a coffee and donut service is open all hours) serves the same unappetizing fare from its kitchen, cafeteria style. The name chains are just as bad. You can’t get a poached or boiled egg or fresh vegetables or fruit, all of which come prepackaged and preserved by chemicals.

It’s not much better at the adjacent Canad Inn. Not only is the food a disappointment but the décor is depressing, all browns and grays and masculine tones suited to a sports bar. What people visiting sick relatives and friends need is light and bright colours, greenery and sunshine.

Speaking of greenery, the hospital has obviously heard somewhere that trees promote health so they offer some plastic replicas on elevator lobby walls and in a concrete and plastic lounge at the William Street entrance. It’s not a place for healing or even relaxing or getting away from the tight quarters of your room.

Considering the cost of health care, you’d think we could do better. While I believe that the staff and administration of the hospital are doing their very best, hedged in no doubt by the bureaucratic monolith that is now the WRHA, it is time to adjust priorities here. There are a lot of fancy buildings going up, not to mention the helicopter pad, so why are patients relegated to the oldest, least efficient part of the complex?

And why can’t we serve a decent meal?

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