Joel Krahn/Yukon News The wing is expected to receive its first patients in January.

New Whitehorse hospital expansion offers streamlined admissions, natural light

‘The space is really designed to provide better emergency care’

The new two-storey expansion of the Whitehorse General Hospital’s emergency department is complete and will begin receiving its first patients Jan. 9, 2018.

The $72-million, 40,000-square-foot facility features a new, streamlined, ‘racetrack’ style triage and administration area. This is meant to smooth out the process of categorizing and seeing emergency patients, reducing patient stress and improving care, said project director Karen Girling.

“You are seen clinically and registered almost simultaneously,” said Girling.

There are 17 emergency service rooms in total, including a specialty room for bariatric patients, one dedicated to gynecology, and one to isolation. There’s also a “safe” room, which is designed to be a “secure and quiet” space for patients exhibiting aggressive behaviour — such as someone having a mental health or drug-related episode — to safely calm down so they can be cared for, said Girling.

There are quiet spaces for staff designed into the layout of the expansion, Girling said, such as in medicine storage areas. This not only minimizes stress on staff, she said, but allows for better concentration as well.

“There’s nothing worse than trying to do a calculation for pediatrics and having someone come by and say in your ear ‘have you got blood pressure for so-and-so,’” she said.

The facility will also have a new method of organizing patients so that all staff will be able to see where each patient is, which Girling describes as being similar to “an order board at Tim Hortons,” where people’s various needs and locations are displayed for staff.

The facility has also been built with “bullet” tubes, which allow samples and medications to come up and down pneumatic delivery systems, “eliminating a lot of walking,” Girling said.

“We got rid of a lot of those time-wasters that we currently have,” Girling said.

Another improvement included in the upgrade is two ambulance bays instead of one, including additional emergency-response designated parking to ease congestion in getting people into the emergency room. The bays also lead directly to the trauma centre so serious cases can be seen as quickly as possible.

There are also four special emergency rooms equipped with an extra anteroom to better aid in the control of infectious disease, Girling said. This allows doctors to isolate potentially infectious patients, enter a secure area to don protective gear, and then see the patient.

“So if we suspect someone has tuberculosis,” she said, by way of example, “then you can move in and out of the room safely.”

The second floor of the building did not have a set purpose when it was first built, said Girling. After careful consideration, she said, the top floor will now be used for “secure care” for patients who need to be held in secure rooms. It will not be used for long-term care, she said.

“For long-term beds, we really want to work with the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility,” Girling said. “That’s (the residents) home, you want activities and services… which we are not able to provide.”

The current emergency care area will become support a service area for the operating rooms, Girling said.

James Low, a spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, said that the new expansion is “not designed to mitigate some of the bed pressures we’re experiencing but to deliver better service.”

Low said that there is not anticipated to be an increase in the number of hospital patients.

“The space is really designed to provide better emergency care,” he said.

Girling said hospital staff will undergo training over the next few months on how to best work in the new space. There will also be open houses that will allow the public to see the new layout so it’s not a surprise if they need emergency care, she said.

The more technical features aside, the new facility is more open and streamlined than its predecessor, with more windows to include natural light, which the current emergency facility does not have at all.

“It’s definitely brighter, that’s for sure,” said Girling.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com