Nova Scotia

Air conditioning breaks down at Cape Breton hospital during heat wave

Air conditioners at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney have been struggling with the high temperatures lately. Nova Scotia Health says it is working on the problem, but at least one patient says the heat has become nearly intolerable.

'It's not putting a man on the moon or anything. It's only an air conditioner,' says patient

Murdock Hawley needs dialysis five days a week at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, but says the recent heat wave and lack of air conditioning have made treatments nearly unbearable. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

For Murdock Hawley, getting dialysis at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney has become more than just uncomfortable.

A recent heat wave and broken air conditioning have made his five-day-per-week treatments nearly intolerable.

"I'm sitting here, basically now on dialysis, lying on a chair, soaking, wringing wet," Hawley said in a phone interview from the hospital on Tuesday. "It's like ... I dunno, it's not comfortable.

"If you're up on a third-floor attic, up in the eaves, and it's really unbearably hot and humid, that's what it feels like."

Air conditioners at the regional hospital have been struggling with the high temperatures lately.

In an email, Nova Scotia Health said it is working on the problem.

Nova Scotia Health says an air cooler dedicated to the dialysis unit was not working earlier in the week, but was fixed Tuesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

On Tuesday, senior media adviser Brendan Elliott said one of three air coolers in the main hospital building is out of service and will be for a few weeks, waiting for parts.

The other two coolers were functioning, but a fourth cooler dedicated to the dialysis unit was not working and was fixed on Tuesday morning, he said.

Hawley said he's been frustrated by the temperature inside the regional hospital for more than a week, but he could not believe the air conditioner was fixed when reached on Tuesday evening.

"It's about 90 degrees and the humidity, I'm just soaked in sweat and everybody here is complaining," he said.

"The maintenance [staff] were up today and they checked and said everything's fine, so somebody's lying. It's getting to the point now I'm going to have to go home from dialysis and change my clothes because I'm just basically soaked in sweat."

Problems with the air conditioning could not have come at a worse time.

According to Environment Canada, temperatures over the weekend and on Monday were over 30 C and in the high 20s since then.

The hospital should have fixed the problem right away, Hawley said.

Treatment is not optional

"It's not putting a man on the moon or anything. It's only an air conditioner," he said.

The heat and humidity make it hard to breathe, especially through the masks patients and staff are required to wear, Hawley said, and going to the hospital is not optional for him.

"It's either dialysis or die, basically, right?" he said.

Elliott said the air conditioning in the dialysis unit was repaired Tuesday morning, but it took the afternoon and evening for the unit to cool down.

The temperature in the dialysis area is now normal, he said on Wednesday.


Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at


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