The opening of Saskatoon’s Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital last month had the potential to be a celebratory moment for the city. However, it was eclipsed by concerns over the hospital’s design having possible security and suicide risks.
The controversy began following the completion of the $285-million hospital in early September when some Saskatchewan psychiatrists who toured the new facility identified more than a dozen issues believed to be safety and suicide risks.
In a letter to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the group raised their concerns, some of which were poor sightlines at nursing stations, doors capable of being barricaded from the inside and an easily-opened fire exit door just steps from beds through which psychiatric patients could flee.
The criticisms regarding the design of the children’s hospital produced provocative headlines but successfully informed the public that the hospital would require ongoing development before opening to patients.
In preparation to moving patients into the hospital at the end of September, the SHA held a press conference announcing that contingency plans were in place to resolve these issues. At the announcement, SHA executive director of children’s provincial programs Carrie Dornstauder said that new issues have arisen because of the scale of the project, but the hospital has processes for continuous improvement.
Dornstauder said that they had a prioritized list of 599 action items to be resolved. The identified tasks ranged from safety concerns labelled as “priority one” — needing to be fixed before the arrival of patients — to less important tasks like ordering extra computer monitors, for example.
SHA and College of Medicine’s interim provincial head of pediatrics, Dr. Ron Siemens, said that some of the concerns raised by the psychiatrists are not seen as major problems when hospital procedures are considered.
“The sightline really is dealt with already, and the nurse will be there as opposed to back at the station. The doors do break open one way when you move them up and they come off,” said Siemens.
“When you walk through, you might see it as a problem because you don’t know what processes we have in place,” Siemens said in defense of the hospital’s layout.
Following the press conference, the controversy could have ended as the SHA proved to be pragmatic and responsive to criticism, and the media fulfilled its duties to report on serious concerns. However, in the period prior to the patient move on Sept. 29, coverage continued focussing on the deficiencies of the hospital.
An article in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix by Zak Vescera highlighted that the hospital would open with only 66 of the 72 required full-time physicians.
Vescera was mailed an irate response to his article which he tweeted. The letter from “Dorothy & The Coffee Moms” asks, “Why don’t you try and say something positive for a change?”
In the SHA response to the psychiatrist’s concerns, one can see how a journalist’s obligation to report on issues not only informs the public but also places pressure on authorities to solve safety risks. In acknowledgment of that, it is easy to criticize the hospital’s issues that have been experienced during the initial development rather than viewing it as an important milestone in Saskatoon’s history.
The SHA held another press conference at the hospital following the successful move of 112 maternal and child patients and the first full day of operations on Sept. 29. The reporters in attendance immediately asked about the 599 action items.
Corey Miller, SHA vice-president of provincial programs, said that all priority one concerns were required to be completed before the move. After the reporters continued grilling him for the exact number of remaining issues, he finally redirected the conversation saying, “I think we’re here to talk about the move itself.”
The questions came back to the exact number of remaining issues, which Miller could not answer because many new issues had “come up on the fly” and been resolved during that first day.
“Any building of this magnitude and this size, there are going to be building challenges, design challenges,” said Miller. “We want to know what we can improve, and constantly improve for weeks, months and years to come.”
The press conference ended awkwardly as the reporter’s relentless requests for the exact list were cut off by a third person not on camera.
While it is absolutely critical that journalists report on public safety issues, in this case, the positive impact of the children’s hospital on the Saskatoon community was not acknowledged.
In a written statement to the Sheaf, the SHA highlighted that safety and providing mental health services are a top priority. And the new hospital also includes design features to promote a “soothing atmosphere.”
The hospital teams will continue taking concerns “very seriously” while working towards mitigating outstanding issues as they arise.
“Patient safety is paramount in the design of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital,” the statement said. “This facility will assist our teams in providing better, safer care in an improved environment.”
Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. | Lisa Landrie