New Fredericton hospital ICU unveiled, but it won't be fully staffed on opening

Horizon Health unveiled the new $21-million intensive care unit at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Horizon Health unveiled the new $21-million intensive care unit at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

The Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton is getting an upgraded intensive care unit with added features to contain the spread of COVID-19 and improve the comfort of patients.

However, expected staffing levels when it opens on Feb. 14 will only allow for seven of its 12 beds to be occupied.

Horizon Health Network unveiled the new $21.75-million ICU on Friday, with staff giving a walk-through of the area, which triples the floor space of the hospital's existing unit.

The upgrade is part of a $250-million project to expand and upgrade the Chalmers hospital, first announced by the provincial government under former premier Brian Gallant in 2017.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

The new ICU will increase the number of beds from eight to 12 and create 20 new health-care staff positions, said Horizon interim president and CEO Margaret Melanson.

But only seven of those beds will be available until enough new employees are hired.

"We're going to be opening with seven beds and we hope to get up to eight beds in March and then we'll continue to work on recruiting to fill the remainder beds up to 12," said Amy McCavour, executive regional director and co-lead of surgical and intensive care for Horizon.

WATCH | Upgraded Chalmers ICU to improve patient comfort and safety:

Speaking to reporters, Melanson said the extra 20 employees will be hired through the province's national and international recruitment efforts, as well as through transfers from other parts of the health network.

"I would say definitely recruitment is always an ongoing high, high priority for us," Melanson said.

"However, we're very comfortable that we will have the staff that we need at least to begin to use this ICU and then move to, of course, the full 12 beds of use as quickly as possible."

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Health Minister Bruce Fitch was also at the unveiling and said hiring has been "a challenge lately," but that his department has created an internal group for that purpose and hired an executive director of recruitment.

"And they've got plans that are going to coordinate with … both [regional health authorities] and with the department, and we're doing recruitment right now whether it's for physicians, [registered nurses]," Fitch said.

Fitch said his department is currently recruiting in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario and has international recruitment trips planned to hire more physicians and nurses.

CBC News reported this week that Horizon held a hiring event at a Montreal hotel where nurses were being promised up to $10,000 in signing bonuses, up to $5,000 in relocation costs and other benefits if they moved to New Brunswick.

"So having a good facility like this, having that investment, I think will help attract people into the into the area and also retain people that are working here."

Pandemic prompted redesign

When contractors first went to work on designing the new ICU, the plan was to include three rooms that contained aerosolized particles, also known as "negative pressure" rooms, said Nicole Moore, clinical liaison for the hospital redevelopment project.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, staff realized there'd be a need for more capacity to treat and contain COVID patients in intensive care.

"So we went back to the drawing board with the help of the architect and came up with a plan that allows us to essentially cut the unit in half," Moore said.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Thanks to a pair of double doors, if the ICU needs to care for up to six COVID patients, the rest of the unit will be protected, she said.

"By having the capacity for six rooms, now we can very easily care for six COVID patients at once in this unit compared to what we had in the previous ICU where we had one room that had true negative pressure capabilities," she said.

"[With the existing ICU] we had to be creative and come up with some extra areas that would allow us to care for patients in a contained room. It wasn't ideal for our patients or for our staff."

New tools to improve comfort, safety

Moore said the new ICU also has ceiling-mounted patient lifts above each of the 12 beds, which the existing unit doesn't have.

She said the lifts will allow staff to more easily move patients into and out of their beds, improving their comfort and reducing the chances of staff injuring themselves.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

The ICU also has "charting alcoves" outside each of the 12 rooms, which allow staff to monitor their own patients and all of the other patients on the floor.

"So if I'm looking after a patient in alcove number three, for example, and there's an alarm going off in bed number 12, I can actually view that alarm on this new monitor.

"I can adjust parameters as required, or if I need to respond then I have a visual right there saying I need to do a look after this right now."