Catherine Knoppf

Catherine Knoppf

Historic shift in health care underway

It’s like no other move in the North Okanagan’s history.

It’s like no other move in the North Okanagan’s history.

As residents climb out of bed and begin their day, patients and staff are in the midst of relocating from the west wing to the new 231,000-square-foot Polson tower at Vernon Jubilee Hospital today.

“We’re really excited to get the building up and running,” said Yolanda Short, operational planner.

At 5 a.m., staff began determining which patients in intensive care, coronary care and women’s and children’s health could be transferred first.

After a brief meeting of staff, the relocation of upwards of 64 patients began at 8:30 a.m.

“During the transfer, there will be a nurse with every patient,” said Mike Shebib, vice-president of Health Care Relocation, which specializes in hospital moves.

“The nurse will be focused on the patient and their wellbeing.”

Family members of patients are encouraged to stay away from the hospital during the move to reduce the number of people on site.

Volunteers will be in key hallway intersections to ensure patients and staff go in the right direction.

Every possibility has been considered, including an expectant mother going into labour.

“We’ll take each case individually,” said Short.

“If a woman is able to move, we’ll move over and if not, we’ll wait.”

Many of the people in the intensive care unit are experiencing sensitive situations, and there will be 15 minutes between each move so patients are prepared properly.

A critical detail for members of the public showing up at the emergency department before 7 a.m. today is that they will use the existing facilities. After 7 a.m., they will be directed to the new tower.

Planning for the relocation has been underway for a year.

“Everyone has risen to the challenge,” said Shebib, whose Victoria-based company has participated in 250 hospital moves in 18 years, including UCLA Medical in Los Angeles most recently.

His team of 20 staff arrived in Vernon Sept. 18 and they have been distributing boxes and carts for equipment big and small.

“We’ve been moving things we could move ahead of the patients,” said Shebib.

That presented some challenges because regular activities have continued in the old building. Equipment was still needed by doctors and nurses.

“If something was sent over and we still needed it because of volume, we called them and it was brought back over,” said Short.

Each department is responsible for setting up supplies.

“I’m nervous and anxious all rolled into one but I’m calm,” said Michelle Rotenburger, a unit manager with women’s and children’s health services.

“We’ve been planning it for so long, right down to the minute details.”

It’s expected the move into the tower will be completed by 12:30 p.m. today.

“It starts to get to business as usual after that,” said Short.

Visiting hours will begin at 3 p.m. today, unlike the usual 2 p.m.

While the expanded space and high-tech equipment of the new tower has long been anticipated it also means that parts of the 1948  hospital will no longer play a major role in life transitions. That’s particularly the case with the delivery rooms and nursery.

“We see families where a grandmother and mother were born on that unit and then a third generation,” said Short, who was born at VJH as were her children.

“It will be sad (to leave there) but we will start new stories.”