Montreal·Special Report

MUHC still ironing out issues in new superhospital one year later

'There were days where I wanted to change my name and you know, just go hide,' says the MUHC's chief problem-solver, Imma Franco. But as Salimah Shivji discovered, at least she can laugh.

Year since move to Glen site saw more than 14,000 glitches — from blocked plumbing to no place to sit

The MUHC has had to fix thousands of glitches at the Glen superhospital site in its first year. (Charles Contant/CBC)

The MUHC is still tackling problems with its Glen superhospital site, trying to smooth out issues one year after the move to the new location, and senior officials expect the period of transition to continue in the months to come.

"It's going to take us a few more months to really get into a groove of how we all work here because it's just so big, and it's such a major transformation," said Imma Franco, the MUHC's director of technical services, planning and real estate.  

Read Salimah Shivji's special reports on the MUHC move, one year later:

Franco is the health centre's ad hoc building problem-solver, and she acknowledged to the CBC that it hasn't been an easy year.

"There were days where I wanted to change my name and you know, just go hide somewhere, but we couldn't do that," she said, laughing.

Logging the issues and priorizing them took up all her time.

"It was, all hands on deck. That's all we did, 24/7," Franco said.

"Initially, it felt like we were bombarded," she said, adding that one of the hardest tasks was persuading staff that their grievances weren't going into "a void – or a big black box" to be ignored.

Issues - big and small

'It was, all hands on deck,' explains Imma Franco, the MUHC's de facto building problem-solver, about the first few months after the move. (CBC)

Franco said the hospital tested scenarios in the weeks leading up to the move, but that wasn't enough.

"There are some things you can't pick up until you're actually experiencing the facility," she told CBC.

The problems stacked up in the first year after the move, from smaller issues such as faulty wiring and misplaced hooks to larger ones, such as raw sewage backing up pipes and flooding onto floors.

Solving the plumbing woes took creative thinking.

Not only did the MUHC alter slopes and add valves, the health centre also worked on changing staff's habits and the equipment they use, such as adapting to a thinner type of gauze.

Another major issue that remains unresolved is the spotty cell-phone coverage that's plaguing the 2.4 million square-foot site, causing problems for doctors who rely on their phones at work.

The MUHC is in the midst of installing hundreds of small antennas at great cost across the hospital, known as a distributed antenna system.

The initial plan was for the antennas to be in place last fall, but the deadline has been revised to early 2017.

'Where was the patient in all this?'

Some patients expressed frustration at the design of the hospital, which they say seems to not have taken the patient into account.

"They got this brand new building and it doesn't work," said Wanda Potrykus, who suffers from an autoimmune disease and often visits the new hospital for tests.

"What were they thinking? Where was the patient in all of this?" she asked about the Glen site. 

Chairs line the corridors near the new hospital's test centre, but people are still often left standing. (CBC)

One example that infuriates her is the test centre where she says many patients must wait in a cramped area with not enough chairs, even though there is plenty of space next door in an often empty prayer and meditation room.

Franco acknowledged that section of the hospital is on her list because of the higher than expected volume of patients that are using it.

The plan is to convert the prayer room into a reception area for the test centre to accommodate overflow.

The health centre is still working on making all the bathrooms at the new hospital fully accessible for those using wheelchairs, and a universally accessible tunnel linking the metro to the Glen is in the works. 

The secretary of the MUHC patients' committee, Lisa Rosati, says the hospital has a long way to go before fully accessible to wheelchair users. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

She said her team has also found solutions for other issues raised by staff, such as adding lockers and office space for those who need them.

The MUHC doesn't expect the transition to the vast new space to be over anytime soon.

"I think the next year is going to continue to be a year of adaptation, not only from the building point of view but also from a health-care delivery point of view, with all the changes occurring in the network," Franco said.

SNC-Lavalin, which manages the building that was built as a public-private partnership, refused an interview with CBC, saying it didn't want to speak while the $330 million lawsuit it has filed against the MUHC is before the courts.

According to the MUHC, the design for the superhospital included space that could be modified when needs were specified by staff. This area was made into a work station with extra lockers. (CBC)


Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is CBC's new India correspondent, soon to be based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.


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