Inside Sim Bay: The QEII site that uses cadavers, mannequins to train staff

Just down the hall from Halifax's emergency department, a glass door separates the hospital from Sim Bay, a state of the art training space that staff say will help them practise their skills like no other medical site in Canada.

$1.8-million space offers simulated training for hospital staff

Staff at the QEII perform the first simulation exercise on a mannequin at Sim Bay, the new training facility that has been built in the Halifax hospital. (QEII Foundation)

Just down the hall from Halifax's emergency department at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, a glass door separates the hospital from Sim Bay, a state-of-the-art training space that staff say will help them hone their skills like no other medical site in Canada.

The rooms were once an old ambulance bay, but after they sat vacant for a while, some emergency department staff came up with a plan.

"We went to Home Depot and we gathered equipment from around the hospital and started using it as a simulation area," said Dr. George Kovacs, a physician in the emergency department and trauma team leader.

It cost $1.8 million to convert the old ambulance bay into the simulation training area at Halifax's QEII Hospital. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

While the makeshift training area worked, they dreamed bigger. 

Two years ago, the staff convinced the QEII Foundation to help raise $1.8 million and transform the space. It's now home to a control centre, boardroom and operating area, complete with computerized mannequin patients and space to train on cadavers.

"What you have here is a Sim Bay that is literally world class," said Bill Bean, CEO of the QEII Foundation.

Dr. George Kovacs, an emergency room physician at the QEII, was instrumental in developing Sim Bay. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"What that does, it attracts students, it attracts those who work here at the QEII — there are 7,000 people that work here — and it lifts everyone up and ultimately it affects patient care because it makes people here through skills training and simulation better at what they do."

What makes the space unique is its cadaver capable simulation area.

The hospital has collaborated with Dalhousie's human body donation program and can store two cadavers at a time.

Sim Bay includes this special room to train with cadavers that are donated through Dalhousie's human body donation program. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

As a teaching hospital, Kovacs said it's their responsibility to provide a good learning environment while ensuring the best outcome for a patient. But in an emergency, that isn't always possible. 

"Sometimes those two factors can butt heads and it's not safe to provide that scenario as a learning experience," he said.

Now, they can test those same emergencies down the hall, on real bodies.

Sim Bay includes a boardroom for teams to rewatch the exercises and debrief. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

"We're trying to simulate real world, real people. There's no higher fidelity simulation than using the human body and that's what this space allows us to do, and that's what makes it unique — certainly in this country, if not around the world.

"I can't think of a higher gift to the medical system than the one that is provided through the human body donation program that allows us to do these things."

One of the areas of Sim Bay has the space for hospital staff to treat a mannequin as a real patient in an emergency situation. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The teams won't always be using cadavers.

Sim Bay has a control room that allows team leaders to program a high-tech mannequin. It coughs, shouts and even blinks as it's being treated.

The whole procedure can be recorded by multiple cameras in the room, which can broadcast on a large screen in a boardroom next door that allows others to watch or review what happened.

"Even though it's with a mannequin, you'd swear it was real because [staff] take their job so seriously," said Bean, who has seen the teams practise. "You have a whole new respect for the physicians and nurses and technologists who work here."

The control room allows team leaders to watch over the exercise while directing the mannequin to react to their treatment. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

This isn't the only training space available to staff. Kovacs said there is an off-site facility that is so busy, it's booked into 2021.

"So having this space, and in particular a space that 's easily accessible, is crucial," said Bean. "I would be disappointed if this space isn't being used every day."

About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca