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Hospital feature - maintenance

Below is the 17th feature article on the new, $40 million Humboldt District Health Complex, which is presently under construction.

Below is the 17th feature article on the new, $40 million Humboldt District Health Complex, which is presently under construction. Every month until the new complex is open to the public in the fall of 2010, a new department will be featured in a story in the Journal, examining in detail everything from new diagnostic services to new space and infection control measures.The focus this month is on the maintenance department.

by Keri DalmanJournal editor

Their department is officially located in what could be termed the bowels of the old Humboldt District Hospital (HDH), but their work takes them all over the building.The maintenance department at the HDH is charged with a massive task - to keep the building and its systems working. Gerry Ilg is the maintenance supervisor for the HDH and Marv Germain is a shift engineer. Both say maintaining the old HDH structure is, in a word, "stressful."The oldest part of the present HDH building was constructed in 1955, and a lot of things the maintenance department has to deal with - everything from heating systems to plumbing - are from that era.That means it's extremely hard to access parts for some things in the building, because over the past 55 years, they have ceased to exist."Many things, in the past short while, have become obsolete - we can't get parts or they're hard to come by and expensive," said Ilg.The maintenance staff have a huge job at the old building - they keep the heating, venting and air conditioning systems running, work on plumbing, and do minor electrical work.They are the ones to repair and often build almost everything for everyone, except for some of the high tech equipment for which the hospital has service contracts."If they have a problem, they call us," Ilg smiled. At the larger hospitals in Saskatoon, they have staff journeymen to look after issues as they crop up."Here, we do it all," said Ilg, "to a point where it's not dangerous. We still use outside trades for the stuff we can't handle," he noted. There's at lot in the old hospital building that the maintenance staff are not going to miss, including the poor ventilation, which means rooms are freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer."It's not so bad for us," said Germain, as they can move around the building."The patients have to sit here on sweaty nights," he noted.It's tough on them, he indicated, when they can't make sick people comfortable, especially in the summer. They also won't miss the big ramp up to the emergency entrance to the building, which is narrow and steep and very difficult to keep clear of snow and ice in the winter.The ambulance entrance in the new Humboldt District Health Complex (HDHC) building will be on grade, Ilg noted, with a heated floor and pits for any melting snow or water off the units. The plumbing in the old hospital is also something they'll be happy to leave behind. It is past its life expectancy and is in constant need of repair, they indicated.It's not so much the supply that's the issue, Ilg said, as all those pipes are copper. It's the drainage that's hard to deal with - all the drains are cast iron."It's hard to find Ts and connections," Ilg said, when they need to be replaced.And as most of the building is concrete, when they have to get into a wall or a floor, out comes the jackhammer."Plumbing's a handful in here," said Germain. In the HDHC, however, plumbing issues will be much easier to handle. "Everything is easily accessible," said Germain.Because the HDHC is a one-level facility, they'll be able to access the pipes and drains in the crawlspace underneath the building."All the plumbing ends in the crawlspace," said Ilg, "so you can get at it."The maintenance staff are well-trained individuals. Ilg is a journeyman carpenter, as is another member of the staff, and all are classified as facility maintenance/operators and hold government-issued boiler tickets, so they are qualified to run the hospital's boilers.As a system, the boilers are pretty reliable, noted Ilg. "There aren't too many break-downs," he said. However, they operate at an extremely high pressure, so if anything does go wrong, it's dangerous, the two explained. "It's more than people realize," said Germain, which is why you need a ticket to run the boilers.Those boilers provide the heat and hot water for the entire HDH- from the hot water in the bathrooms to the laundry and sterilization rooms.In the new HDHC, one of the biggest changes will be going from steam heat to hot water heat.The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) in the new building will be complex, with three stand alone package boilers heating water to supply in-floor heating systems, as well as for air handlers, which will blow heat to other parts of the building.They will be moving from one air handler in the old building to seven in the new facility, all area-specific, Ilg noted, so that everything remains the right temperature."It's a well-designed system," Ilg said. "It will maintain the environment in there quite well," he added, and will make it easier to keep rooms at the temperatures they need to be at."It's going to be very efficient as compared to this place," he noted. "Maintaining the whole air environment in (the new building) is going to be so much better," Germain put it. "We'll be moving from 1955 to the 21st century. It's quite a high-tech facility."The HVAC system will be a big part of the new building, and unlike the old building, where everything is done by hand, in the HDHC, everything will be automated.Every valve in the system will be controlled by maintenance staff at operator work stations.People will still have their own thermostats in their offices that they can adjust, Ilg noted, but the automated system will allow maintenance staff to easily diagnose problems and adjust things accordingly through a computer.The entire building will run off of master control centre (MCC) panels, Ilg explained. These MCCs are essentially the brains of the building, he explained. Everything will be controlled through computers using MCCs."It's quite different (than what we have currently)," Ilg said. "It will be a big change for us."The entire building will be more efficient, Ilg added. The doors and windows will be new and triple glazed, and automated systems will help direct everything to where it needs to be."It's pretty state-of-the art," Ilg said. "From toilets to lighting, it's going to be energy efficient."Its set-up will also allow the maintenance staff to be more efficient in their work. For instance, all the wires that run through the building, up in the ceiling or in the walls, are all colour-coded and labelled. So if there's a problem with, for example, the nurse call system, they know exactly which wire belongs to that system."The ceiling here is a maze," Ilg said, looking upwards.The new facility will also have detailed drawings they can follow when trying to diagnose an issue."Here, it's guess work," Ilg said of the old HDH.Maintenance's designated area of the building will be pretty close in size to what they have now - there will just be new systems to run in it.In the boiler room will be the three package boilers, the fire system pumps, water softeners, vacuum pumps, air compressor and the back-up generator. There is also a repair shop, parts room, control room, and a carpentry shop and a little office space for the maintenance staff inside the main building, plus a tractor shed outside, where they'll keep the equipment for maintaining the grounds."Basically, we're almost going with our toolboxes," said Germain. "We've got everything (new) to learn over there. It's a big learning curve."Already, the maintenance staff have been visiting the HDHC construction site, getting informed about the new systems they will be operating, and will be doing more intense training as the time for moving approaches.Those installing the systems will be training the maintenance staff, Ilg explained. "They supply training to us for each piece of equipment," he noted, and that training can last from four hours to three days, depending on how complicated the system is.Though some of the equipment is changing, most of what the maintenance staff do on a daily basis will remain the same, they explained - they'll still be taking care of the building, fixing beds and building pieces of furniture. In addition to all the other features, the new HDHC will have a reverse osmosis water system for drinking and potable water, Ilg said, which will be nice for everyone in the building. Overall, the HDHC building really looks to the future, the maintenance staff feels."One thing I've really noticed is that there has been a lot of forethought put into future expansion," said Germain. "They thought ahead and really planned the building well."And the thoughts were not just about making the building bigger, Germain feels, but in terms of changes and advancements in health care.Ilg said he's been impressed with the quality of work that's going into the building."Everything is so nicely done," he said. "There are high standards with what they are doing. It's an impressive building - I think the public is going to be amazed. It's long overdue, but it will be worth the wait now."