Work to begin on water quality improvements at Victoria General Hospital

A man walks by the parking lot at the Victoria General hospital in Halifax in this file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)
A man walks by the parking lot at the Victoria General hospital in Halifax in this file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)

Health Minister Michelle Thompson says work will begin next week to improve the water quality at the Victoria General Hospital so people can take showers at the ailing Halifax site that was supposed to be demolished this year.

Repairs will start on the fifth floor of the Centennial Building, which houses cancer patients and others requiring hospitalization. A localized water treatment and hot water on-demand system that is safe for immunocompromised patients will be installed.

The work will take about a month and eventually expand to three other floors that house the most compromised patients.

"There have been repairs that have been required for a while and we want to move on those," Thompson told reporters at Province House.

"I think we've decided that we do need to act on some things and we're willing to do that."

Even after the work is complete, people still not be able to drink the water because of longstanding problems associated with legionnaire's disease.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

The state of the aging hospital has become an even more pressing concern after it was learned Thursday that the lone bidder for work that would allow the Victoria General to eventually close, missed a tender submission deadline.

PCL Plenary Health was scheduled to deliver its financial proposal to redevelop the Halifax Infirmary by Thursday, but Premier Tim Houston said market condition challenges have required an indefinite pause on the tender process. He could not say when — or if — a proposal will come forward.

Thompson told reporters on Friday that although the delays mean the life of the Victoria General will need to be extended even further than planned, there are certain repairs that need to happen at the hospital regardless of Halifax Infirmary tender progress.

Nova Scotia Health interim CEO Karen Oldfield recently told reporters earlier this month that she wanted long-standing problems with the building's air conditioning addressed and that is also going to happen.

A spokesperson for the health authority said Friday that temporary and long-term solutions are being finalized that will address past problems with heat in the Centennial Building.

"We will temporarily install a cooling unit on the eighth floor for this spring, while continuing to work on additional chilling capacity to the HVAC system that will address the seventh, eighth and ninth floors permanently," Brendan Elliott said in an email.

"We have received consultant feedback on options that are under review and we expect to proceed with design and contracting in winter 2023. A timeline for the permanent fix will be developed post contract signature."

Working to assess building needs

Thompson said her department would work with health authority officials to take another look at the building to determine what needs to happen in the short term to ensure the site remains suitable for patients and staff. It could also mean planning for "medium term" work, she said.

"The infrastructure has obviously aged and I think what we need to look at is the quality and safety of the patients that are under people's care there and as well as the health-care workers," she said.

"Where there are, you know, solutions that we can implement, we'll work with the staff and work with the engineers in order to try and accomplish some of those things."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said it's disappointing further work at the VG site is under discussion. The Tory government inherited a plan to redevelop the infirmary and there have been nothing but delays since, she said.

"What people need is access to the health care they need in infrastructure that is safe and effective."

'It's terrible in there'

Everyone wants a new facility, said Chender, but in the meantime what is in place needs to provide for the safe delivery of care. She didn't mince words while discussing the condition of the Victoria General.

"It's terrible in there, and the health-care workers will tell you that and the patients will tell you that. I have a family member who went through chemotherapy who couldn't drink the water," she said.

"[People] should be able to be treated in a timely fashion and with dignity and if that means some repairs to that building so be it, but we need new infrastructure and we need to understand what the delay is."

A good investment

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who was a member of the government that introduced the plan to close the Victoria General as part of the so-called QEII Health Sciences Centre New Generation project, described the VG as "very problematic."

When the New Generation project was announced in 2016, it was predicted demolition of the Victoria and Centennial buildings at the VG site would begin in 2022. 

"It is not a modern facility and it requires a lot of ongoing maintenance, including issues that can make people sick in that building," Churchill told reporters.

Churchill said aging buildings will not be able to keep up with the demands of the health-care system, but it will be difficult to escape the work required at the VG if the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary continues to be delayed, he said.

Thompson said spending at the VG is "a very good investment in terms of time and money" if it means quality of care is preserved while patients and staff are using the site.