With his wife in labour with their first born child, Martin Niedballa had visions of chaos as nurses told him they were being moved into the new hospital tower.
“I just rolled my eyes,” said Martin of the transfer from the old maternal child unit at Vernon Jubilee Hospital to the new Polson Tower Sunday morning.
But within three minutes, Martin’s wife Mary was wheeled from the old, cramped quarters in the west wing to the spacious new tower to the east, without incident.
“It was so smooth,” said Martin, describing how staff even applauded them as they rolled down the hall to their new room. “It was like the Tour de France.”
The day was made even more memorable as Amelia Grace was welcomed to the world at 1:57 p.m. – the first baby born in the new building, and the first operation (she was delivered via cesarean).
“It’s pretty exciting because she will be part of that history,” said 38-year-old Mary, beaming while holding her eight-pound, one-ounce little girl.
Secretly, the teacher and her husband, a producer at KISS FM, had always hoped their baby would be born in the new $180-million tower.
“Every time I went by that countdown clock I would think, it’s not a countdown clock for the new tower, it’s a countdown for my baby,” said Mary, whose due date was also Sept. 25.
Amelia wasn’t the only one to make a historic debut over the weekend.
Before the big move got underway, another little girl made history as the last baby born in the old maternal child unit.
Kennedy Atkinson, weighing eight pounds, 10 ounces, was welcomed at 6:21 p.m. to parents Bailey and Al of Tappen.
“It’s definitely cool to be part of the history of the old tower,” said 26-year-old Bailey, who wasn’t due until Oct. 11.
During recovery, Bailey and her new family were able to experience both the new and old wings of the hospital.
And there was a notable difference.
“We were sitting in the old room and it felt more packed in,” said Al, who was able to spend the night in the new labour, delivery, recovery and postpartum room thanks to a built-in, fold-out couch.
“This is definitely bigger, it’s nice and comfortable,” added Bailey, comparing the new Women’s and Children’s Health Services department to the old unit. “I like that they’re all private rooms.”
The pair of moms who made history were two of 29 patients that underwent the big move Sunday.
While staff were on scene planning as early as 4 a.m., the move officially got underway at 8:30 (after the new emergency department opened at 7).
By 10:20 a.m., all the patients were settled into the new building and staff were grinning with delight (they didn’t expect to be all moved until after noon).
“There were a lot of people that made it a successful day for us,” said Yolanda Short, operational planner, of the day that went off without a hitch.
Along with those working that day, a number of staff members volunteered to come in on their day off to help with the move.
“They just felt like it was part of our history,” said Short.
But the day wasn’t as joyous as some had hoped, with no funding announcement.
At the top of the tower sits two empty, shelled-in floors, which could add 60 new acute care beds and relieve frequent overcrowded and code purple conditions at VJH.
“Year after year, Vernon Jubilee Hospital has operated at overcapacity, frequently entering states of emergency as a result,” said New Democrat leader Adrian Dix. “And year after year – 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 – the community and local medical and nursing staff have advocated for additional acute care and community health services so the regional hospital can run safely and effectively.
“But even with the opening of the new patient tower (Sunday), Vernon residents and health care workers are still grappling with this crisis in capacity, because the Liberals decided to leave two floors of the new facility that could operate 60 additional acute care beds shelled in.”
Funding has been blamed for the reason the floors cannot be completed, as it estimated it would cost $20 million plus an additional $20 million annually to operate the floors.