The impressive new Women's Hospital now rising at the site of the old Weston Bakeries at Elgin Avenue and Sherbrook Street promises to be one of the jewels of the Health Sciences Centre campus, but its patients are more likely to be impressed with the private rooms and the spacious bathrooms.
No longer will patients have to share rooms with strangers, making it easier for loved ones to remain with them around the clock.
Nor will patients in some wards have to travel to the end of the hall to take a shower -- all rooms will have them.
The bathrooms will be large, with roomy tubs for women in labour and space for moms to take a shower while keeping an eye on the baby.
Patients will no longer reach a clerk at a desk when pressing a call button, but rather their own nurse, who will carry a mobile device. So instead of a ward clerk passing a message to the nurse Mary in Room 10 is in pain, the nurse will take the call directly and can immediately determine how pressing the issue is as she makes her rounds.
These are a few of the many improvements in women's health care the new Women's Hospital will provide over the old, brick facility that opened in 1950 on Notre Dame Avenue.
There are currently more than 5,000 births (about half of all hospital births in the city), 7,000 gynecological surgeries and 29,000 clinic visits at the hospital each year. But the space is cramped. Some areas, such as the basement, are downright dingy, and a lack of elevators means very ill patients, equipment and members of the public all ride in the same two lifts.
Staff at the hospital learned this week of the new targeted opening date -- fall 2016. Construction is expected to be completed in a little over a year, but there will then be a year-long commissioning period to ensure the very complex building -- which handles everything from gynecological surgeries and births to intensive infant care and palliative services -- is ready for use. The total estimated capital cost of the project is $235 million.
"The hospital is committed to doing this right, so when the move happens it happens right for patients, it happens right for staff, and it's seamless," said HSC spokesman David Hultin, explaining the lengthy commissioning process, which includes staff training.
The old hospital is cramped with mainly semi-private rooms, making it difficult for family members to stay overnight with loved ones. Placing cots or the large armchairs that pull out into beds in these rooms can pose a safety issue to hospital staff and patients trying to get around at night.
All hospitals within the Health Sciences Centre complex have allowed round-the-clock visiting since at least 1999, but it's often difficult for family members to remain overnight because of privacy and space concerns.
A husband may want to stay with his wife overnight, but in a semi-private room, it's an imposition on the other female patient.
"To have a male sleeping in a room when there's another female patient in the room really is not fair to that other patient," said Shellie Anderson, manager of patient services on the hospital's fifth floor, a unit encompassing gynecology, gynecology-oncology and antepartrum services.
Currently, visitors may be handed a pillow and a blanket to sleep in a lounge on the same floor as their loved one. They are near but not in the same room.
Unwilling to bother a busy nurse, the patient may forgo a request to be handed a difficult-to-reach glass of water or help in finding a more comfortable resting position -- something they would think nothing to ask of a relative or close friend keeping them company in the room.
Such dilemmas will disappear in the new hospital. Private rooms will be spacious and equipped with a bench that easily pulls out into a comfy bed for visitors.
The rooms will be well-equipped, so staff aren't scurrying down hallways to find a blood-pressure pump or IV pole.
All bathrooms will have showers so patients don't have to 'book' them in another location, and staff don't have to clean shower areas after each use.
In addition to offering greater comfort and privacy, the better-equipped private rooms will require fewer housekeeping resources, as patients are moved around less. And there will be less opportunity for the spread of hospital-acquired diseases.
The new, larger hospital will bring together services to moms and babies that are currently spread throughout the HSC campus. For example, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), now housed in Children's Hospital, will be in Women's Hospital. (Currently, only the intermediate-care nursery is housed at Women's Hospital.)
Nicolette Holling-Kostiuk, a nurse and clinical manager for the Women's Hospital redevelopment project, said currently, a convalescing mom and her very ill newborn will be cared for hundreds of metres apart. Family members are left to shuttle between the two hospitals.
"We'll be eliminating that, which is enormous," she said.
The hospital has had cases where twins are born and one of the babies is placed in intermediary care at Women's Hospital, while the other requires intensive care at Children's Hospital.
"So babies who have been in the womb together for a long time are separated now in two different buildings," Holling-Kostiuk said.
Critically ill or preterm babies will also receive private rooms instead of sharing space with other newborns. The rooms will be large enough for mom and dad and even a sibling to visit at any time. If babies suffer complications, they may remain in hospital for weeks on end, while the mother might be discharged in 24 to 48 hours. Now, it will be easier for families to visit.
"It's a huge change," Holling-Kostiuk said.