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Mould cleanup at Yellowknife's new hospital could have put patients at risk, warn staff

Water leaks and mould have plagued Yellowknife’s new Stanton Territorial Hospital since day one, and staff have expressed repeated concerns that vulnerable patients weren’t protected from risks caused by cleaning up these problems, CBC News has learned.

Internal emails detail grey water leak and sewage backups have been ongoing problems

Water leaks leading to mould growth have appeared in different parts of the hospital since the day it opened, according to N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority documents. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

Water leaks and mould have plagued Yellowknife's new Stanton Territorial Hospital since day one, and staff have repeatedly expressed concerns that vulnerable patients weren't protected from risks caused by cleaning up these problems, CBC News has learned.

Employees of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority raised alarms in late May after a leak of grey water — containing bodily fluids — caused damage to a wall in the hospital's dialysis unit, leading to mould growth. Those concerns are detailed in internal hospital documents CBC recently obtained through an access to information request.

According to the documents, the leak was discovered on May 27, the day after the new Stanton hospital opened to patients. It's unclear when contractors were brought in for repairs, but the work was halted at 11 a.m. on May 30.

"I had several concerns regarding exposure of patients to the construction dust," stated Karen Pardy, the health authority's specialist for infection, prevention and control, in an email to a colleague explaining her decision to put a stop to the work.

She specifically flagged her concern that the work was happening in the vicinity of people on dialysis treatment, who are also some of the hospital's most significantly immunocompromised patients.

According to Canadian Standards Association (CSA) guidelines referenced in the correspondence, the work area should have been fully sealed and all air ideally pumped directly outside using a negative air pressure system.

Paper towels and other items were being thrown into the toilets by staff and patients.- Karen Pardy, N.W.T. health authority's specialist for infection, prevention and control

"The hoarding that is currently present in the dialysis unit is absolutely not sufficient for the type of work being performed," stated Pardy on May 30. 

Staff say in the emails that the contractor had no training in CSA standards for this type of work, and had never completed construction work in a hospital before.

A view of the emergency room central nursing station in the new hospital, before it opened. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The contractor's name on this project is largely redacted from documents, but Patrick Rauch — owner of Commercial NDS (Northern Disaster Services) — is cc'd on a June 2 email.

Rauch told CBC his company was hired after another company did an initial tear-out and that his work area was fully inspected before his team began renovations. As well, he said all work was done after hours.  

"I know the hospital and I understand how important it is to keep the dust control in there down," Rauch said. "Especially in [a dialysis unit.]"

The identity of who hired the contractor has also been redacted from the documents. Carl Radford, project manager for Northern Disaster Services, told CBC that Dexterra, the company that maintains and operates the facility, did the hiring.

The $350-million hospital was built as a public-private partnership, which means the territorial government funded its construction and contracted a third party to design, build and maintain it.

That third party was originally Carillion Canada, which filed for creditor protection in 2018. Dexterra became the new partner after that.

In a statement, a representative for Dexterra declined to comment, saying the company cannot speak on behalf of the hospital.

A 'complex lack of accountability'

Two months after the grey water leak in Stanton's dialysis unit, health emergency planner Carolyn Ridgley indicated water leaks and "concerning practices" around construction and maintenance still remained an issue at the hospital.

In an internal document dated July 26, Ridgley describes a leak in a staff change room/bathroom that also led to a mould infestation, and references a previous leak in the same area, discovered before the hospital opened to the public. 

You've already spread [mould spores] throughout the entire hospital.- Tang Lee, University of Calgary professor

In her correspondence, Ridgley repeatedly expresses frustration about being left out of the planning of construction and maintenance at the hospital.

She describes the plastic surrounding a work area left "wide open for dust and debris to enter the elevator and continue to the patient areas." 

"I was told [redacted] was doing the maintenance and they have been asked to put in a zipper, as per standards, but this has not happened," she stated.

Ridgley does not specify which contractor was performing this work.

"I feel there is a complex lack of accountability and this needs to change if we are to know what we are doing is right by the facility, staff and patients," she said.

A file photo of equipment at the new Stanton hospital. Tang Lee, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Calgary, says performing work without taking proper precautions can have lasting effects on the building, even if the work is halted after a few days. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority initially declined an interview, and didn't provide answers to emailed questions, on the situation at Stanton.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, spokesperson David Maguire said the hospital has had five water leaks since it opened, and two of those leaks have led to mould abatement. He didn't specify the types of mould that were found in the hospital.

"All of this work was completed promptly and any mould remediated in line with CSA standards," stated Maguire.

He added hospital management and staff regularly meet with Dexterra to address maintenance issues.

Mould risks

Tang Lee, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Calgary, said performing work without taking proper precautions can have lasting effects on the building, even if the work is halted after a few days.

"You've already spread [mould spores] throughout the entire hospital because the hospital HVAC system, which is a heating-vent led, air conditioning system ... is interconnected," he said.

A report, published by Health Canada in July 2001, reviews 32 documented cases of construction-related, hospital-acquired infections in the country between 1978 and 1998. 

Those cases affected 377 people and led to at least 153 deaths. Most were caused by the spread of various types of mould during hospital renovations, demolitions and water repairs.

Code browns

According to the documents, hospital staff also detail ongoing issues with hazardous spills — also known as code browns. There were no garbage cans set out on the hospital's first day, leading to sewage backups as staff sought alternate means of disposal.

"Paper towels and other items were being thrown into the toilets by staff and patients which caused some of the earlier code browns in May and June," stated Pardy, the authority's specialist for infection, prevention and control.

"It is very much tied to our code brown issues since first patient day." 

It's unclear whether the sewage backups are related to other water leak issues at the hospital.


Do you have a story or tip about the new Stanton Territorial Hospital? Contact randi.beers@cbc.ca

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