An independent evaluation of the Capital District Health Authority says the aging buildings at the Victoria General site in Halifax are putting patient care at risk and the health authority needs to be better prepared in case of an emergency.
The Capital District Health Authority received its three-year accreditation last month from Accreditation Canada. Along with accolades, the report identified building shortcomings as a persistent problem.
"The situation at the Victoria General site has created significant risk for the safe delivery of patient care," the report says.
"This building is the location where care is being provided to some of the organization's most complex and vulnerable patients, and patient safety is dependent on staff members' good judgment every day."
The report mentions the "regular" flooding at the building and the legionella bacteria in the water, which has necessitated the development of rules for staff members needing to tell patients about where they can drink the water or shower.
"The organization has recognized that it needs to more thoroughly prepare for the eventuality of a critical event that might lead to some of its current space not being usable for a prolonged period," the report says.
The job of developing a contingency plan at the Capital District Health Authority falls to Shauna McMahon, the director of technology and infrastructure renewal.
Earlier this year, directors at the Victoria General and Centennial buildings were surveyed on where their emergency services might move and how they would be triaged in case of an emergency.
"There's no question it's a challenge for us," said McMahon.
"It would be very difficult for me to sit here and say that we could mitigate anything. We just can't because the buildings are just so old."
Pipes eroding from the inside
McMahon said many of the pipes in the Victoria General building are in the wall and eroding from the inside out, making detection of problems difficult.
"We can't even look in the wall and say, 'Oh yeah, that one looks like it's risky' or 'We might need to replace it,'" she said.
"What happens, generally, is a leak springs in the pipe and then we have to search through the walls to find out where that leak is and then we replace it and we have to usually replace quite a large section of that piping to contain that water."
Accreditation Canada's report raised another point — in the event of an emergency, there is no space to move the services carried out at the Victoria General until funding is approved to build new facilities on top of the emergency building at the nearby Halifax Infirmary site.
That will be five years away, at the earliest.
McMahon said until that time, stopgap measures will continue — meaning security guards will look for leaks as part of their rounds and managers will try to squeeze more services into newer facilities within the Capital District Health Authority.
"We also work with our colleagues at the Department of Health. We meet monthly and we look at what is it we need to do to help maintain things in a safe way," McMahon said.
"We don't want to over-invest because we're mindful of being stewards of the taxpayers' money. We don't want to put millions into a building that we think and are hopeful that we can tear down in a few years."