Every full-time doctor at the Dartmouth General is chipping in for the hospital's expansion

After years of waiting, the three-storey expansion at the Dartmouth General Hospital officially opened Tuesday and those who will work in the new space are invested in more ways than one.

Every full-time physician at the hospital has donated to the Dartmouth, N.S., hospital foundation's fundraising campaign. Combined, the 85 doctors have committed to giving $660,000 to pay for some of the equipment that they will soon be using.

"I think it speaks to the culture at the Dartmouth General," said Dr. Carla Pittman, a radiologist at the hospital and co-chair of the Above and Beyond fundraising campaign.

"Every health-care facility in the province and in Canada has huge challenges in health care and funding. I think what the physicians saw in this was an opportunity to really step up and invest in each other and the patients."

Pittman said it's common for staff to chip in on hospital projects, but she said the typical giving rate for physicians is 18 per cent across Canada.

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She was astounded when, just a few weeks ago, they realized every physician had signed donor cards pledging to invest in the hospital.

She said the money will be used to buy the commonplace equipment in the operating rooms and some radiology equipment.

"I like to think that when you come to the Dartmouth General and your physician in the OR picks up a piece of equipment that this campaign has funded, you know that they're as invested as anybody," said Pittman.

The expansion of the hospital includes eight new operating rooms with advanced lighting systems — a doubling of capacity that will allow for 3,500 more surgeries a year. Two of those rooms will be dedicated to orthopedic surgeries. There's also a new sterilization department doctors say is a major upgrade.

Dr. Jennifer Leighton, an orthopedic surgeon, said the new space brings with it more modern equipment and provides a source of backup so there isn't concern about procedures having to be stopped or rescheduled due to equipment not being ready.

"Previously, we've been in a setting where if one machine goes, we're done," she said.

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Dr. Todd Howlett, the site's chief of staff, said the difference between what's been in place and what doctors and patients will now have access to is night and day.

"We're talking about a facility that's jumped a couple of generations as far as the technology in the room, the lighting. It will make care easier, safer and better for patients," he said.

Work at the hospital will continue for the next year and a half as the fifth floor is developed to hold 48 new beds, and the building undergoes a significant renovation.

Pittman said they'll go from 950 employees to 1,250 in that time.

In total, the Above and Beyond campaign is trying to raise $13 million. Pittman said they're less than a million away from that number.

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She said other staff members, including nurses, technologists and auxiliary members have also made donations.

"I really think that this just reflects how the Dartmouth General [community] has been able to sort of step up and come together when the opportunity presented itself to them," said Pittman.

Howlett said he was proud of the campaign and his colleagues efforts.

"I think what it might suggest is we're pretty cohesive," he said.

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The new wing is named after Neville Gilfoy, the publisher who died in 2016.

His wife, Ann Janega, noted that it was through a donation of $2 million by the O'Regan's Automotive Group that the decision was made to name the wing after her husband, a known promoter of businesses and entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.

"Imagine how selfless it is for any firm or individual to write a big cheque on a fabulous facility and then put someone else's name on it," Janega told the crowd assembled for the official opening.

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