Pathology air quality issues to be fixed by spring, says health authority

·3 min read
Some staff on the seventh floor of the Mackenzie building have to wear powered air purifying respirators because the air quality is so bad.  (Submitted by Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys - image credit)
Some staff on the seventh floor of the Mackenzie building have to wear powered air purifying respirators because the air quality is so bad. (Submitted by Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys - image credit)

Nova Scotia Health says a fix is on the way for serious ventilation issues in the building that houses the province's main pathology laboratory, while maintenance workers visited the Mackenzie building Tuesday to try to find out how water is getting in.

The longstanding issues were flagged by Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys, the head of the department, in an interview to CBC News last week.

She questioned why the lab isn't being moved in the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre New Generation project, warning that the state of the building could cause major disruptions with the lab's ability to diagnose diseases.

Her top concern is air quality.

Staff wear full-body safety gear

For years, some staff working on the seventh floor have had to wear full-body safety gear to avoid inhaling toxic fumes.

Steve Button, the health authority's senior director of facilities management, says maintenance staff have been doing what they can to keep the system going.

But they've reached a point where they need to hire specialists to fix the air quality. He says the problems with the ventilation system include temperature instability, dehumidification, exhaust and odour issues.

"This ranked very high on our priority list. We needed to get the work done for the safety of our employees," Button said.

Button said the slow pace came down to funding.

Last week, Nova Scotia Health told CBC that repairs to the Mackenzie building were part of ongoing discussions. Button says the work had already been approved.

"We did receive approval from government back in May to address this issue," he said.

"We're going to be fixing the existing system, and as well we're going to be bringing in an additional air-handling unit to improve the flow of air into that space and the exhaust of any odours into that space."

The upgrades to the system will mean that staff will no longer have to wear the safety suits.

Repair budget doubled

Button says a tender will be posted in August and September, with the goal of the work being completed by spring. He expects it to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Dave Irish/CBC
Dave Irish/CBC

The project is one in a long list of issues at the 54-year-old building. Button says there are problems with the foundation, the electrical system, and the roof.

He says in the last year, the provincial government has doubled the annual maintenance budget for the health authority, which can range from $10 to $30 million, depending on the needs. Button says the province has also created a budget specifically for renovations.

He says that money means his department can finally tackle longstanding issues within aging health facilities.

In the past, he says, they've had to prioritize urgent work at the nearby Victoria General and Centennial buildings, which are older and in worse shape.

Both those buildings are slated to be demolished with the QEII expansion, while the Mackenzie will continue to house the pathology department.

Possible leaky windows

Another issue flagged by Geldenhuys is leaks and floods. She described one pathologist's office where a pipe has dripped into a bucket for months.

Submitted by Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys
Submitted by Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys

Button says maintenance workers have been doing what they can to keep up.

"We have a leak, we go in, we isolate the area, we try to control where the water's coming in. Another issue happens, we move over there, we address that issue, and then we get back to the one that we need to address initially. So in this situation you have competing demands for our maintenance resources, but we are moving forward on it."

Button believes the source of the issue is the windows, which are slated to be replaced in two years.

He says if that is the cause, they might be able to expedite that work with their new budget.

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