West Coast General Hospital is finally getting its emergency department expansion.
British Columbia’s health minister Adrian Dix and Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne announced on Friday, Jan. 15 a $6.25-million expansion for Port Alberni’s hospital.
“The current West Coast General Hospital has served the people of the Alberni-Clayoquot region well since 2001. However, upgrades are needed so the hospital can continue this high level of care for people for decades to come,” Dix said.
The expansion is designed to enhance patient care in a number of ways, he added.
The redevelopment will include a 244 square-metre (2,626 square-foot) expansion, as well as improvements to the existing emergency department space. The project will add three new patient exam beds, extra space for patients awaiting tests and results, a private, safe seclusion room for patients in need of emergency mental health care, improvements to the triage and admitting area, and two separate entrances for ambulances and the general public.
Plans for an expansion in the emergency department were first put on hold in 2015, then again in 2018 despite a new electronic triage system being implemented the previous year.
Design work for a new ER department was completed in 2017. Dix said a request for proposal for a construction manager went out on Jan. 14, and construction will begin in March 2021. The expansion is expected to be finished by summer 2022.
Dix acknowledged that six years is a long time to wait for a hospital expansion. “You’re right, like many things it’s taken too long, but we’re going. Part of that was advocacy from (former MLA) Scott Fraser and Josie Osborne before this, and really the whole community.”
West Coast General was built in the late 1990s and opened in 2001. Its emergency department saw 25,000 visits last year from all over the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.
Osborne, who served as chair of the ACRD’s hospital board when she was mayor of Tofino, said the ER expansion has been a priority. “Voices have been heard and investments have been made,” she said. “Everybody understands that WCGH is a key facility in the region. Knowing when you live in Ahousaht, Hot Springs Cove or Bamfield…the care you’re going to receive at WCGH is important.”
The expansion will mean streamlined services and enhanced patient care, said Pam Rardon, site director for WCGH. “This is exciting news. The staff here are very excited because it’s going to mean better care for patients in the end,” Rardon said.
The private room for people in mental health crises “was a must when we began discussions long ago,” she added. “Having some space—some private space—is really important.”
Rardon said part of the expansion will be physically moving walls, and part will be streamlining what is already in place. For example, the waiting room is difficult to see from the nursing station, and there isn’t a lot of room for families to wait together if necessary—especially for those that must travel a long distance to get to the hospital.
Cost for the expansion will be shared between the province ($2.55 million), West Coast General Hospital Foundation ($2 million) and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District ($1.7 million).
“The emergency department is a busy place, and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District is very pleased to support this renovation,” said chairperson John McNabb. “We know it will greatly benefit patients in the years to come.”
Chris Francey, business director for the WCGH Foundation, said $2 million is a significant pledge for the foundation, but necessary. “We believe it is the right thing to do for all of the families who will need the services of this hospital in the future,” he said.
Rardon credited the partnership between the hospital district and the foundation as vital to this project moving forward.
“We want people locally to know they can support this (expansion) by supporting the foundation. It’s a big amount of money to be raised and we want to help them be able to meet that goal.”