Just as schools, small businesses, and public services, like transit, needed to rethink what it meant to serve the public amidst a global pandemic, so too have our healthcare facilities—and perhaps in more radical ways. Today on World Health Day, we reflect on and celebrate some of the transformative work that took place over the past year in healthcare.

Bettering their best to prepare for the worst

In the early days of COVID, Hamilton Health Sciences (HSS) conducted a review of their oxygen system to assess their ability to support additional ventilators throughout their facilities. The study determined the systems in place at Hamilton General, a main COVID response site in the city, may experience some strain should a high volume of people require ventilators. WalterFedy’s team is actively supporting the hospital as they integrate a brand-new oxygen system complete with tanks and piping infrastructure to give them increased capacity and provide redundancy for their existing system. The implementation of the new system is a carefully coordinated and intricate dance.

“Running new systems within an existing hospital is always challenging,” explained project manager and mechanical engineer Dave Thompson. “There’s infection control issues to manage, finding the physical space and path to implement the infrastructure, and coordinating with existing operations on site to minimize disruptions.”

“Our integrated team has a strong level of experience and expertise having worked on healthcare projects on multiple sites across Ontario. So, when hospitals call and ask what they need to do, we are able to address those questions and mobilize quickly.”

The WalterFedy team was also brought on to design five new isolation rooms for Hamilton General’s Intensive Care Unit. This meant revamping existing private rooms within the ICU that were not yet set up for full isolation, so they could achieve negative pressure. A negative pressure room helps to contain airborne pathogens from moving to other areas of the hospital and reduces the likelihood of contamination.

“Having a relationship with industry partners and contractors has been essential to getting things up and running fast,” said Dave. Fast-tracked construction meant strategically and responsibly deviating from specifying exact materials as we would in normal circumstances. “We were working closely with local contractors and asking questions like what can you get today, and being flexible with how we designed in order to build quickly with what was readily available.”

Offsite opportunities

In early 2020, it was hard to predict how aggressively the pandemic would hit and whether the healthcare system would be able to handle a surge of patients. As the infection rates climbed upward in April, it became apparent our hospitals needed to plan for a sizable influx. Hamilton Health Sciences was quick to engage the WalterFedy team to develop early-stage plans for offsite facilities at a local Hamilton hotel and a convention centre.

“On Easter weekend in 2020, we were meeting with clinical people from HHS and their planners to go through these facilities and figure out how to best implement temporary washrooms, hand washing stations, and access food,” said Dave. It also meant investigating infection control measures and temporary power solutions for facilities that weren’t designed with healthcare in mind. The intent was to develop an action plan so HHS could accommodate three to four hundred people should the spread of the virus overwhelm the existing healthcare facilities. Fortunately, as numbers began tracking downward, the exercise was shelved.

Sanitization innovation

When personal protective equipment (PPE) demand exceeded supply in the early days of COVID, hospitals were faced with the challenge of keeping their frontline workers well equipped to safely treat patients. As a temporary measure to address the shortage, two hospitals in Hamilton developed special PPE cleaning rooms. Equipment originally designed to sanitize fruits and vegetables was identified as an interim solution. With the right configuration, the machine was able to apply ozone and peroxide in a manner that effectively killed the virus, allowing the hospital to recycle equipment.

Working alongside local contractors, the WalterFedy team built out rooms complete with modified HVAC systems that would allow someone wearing full PPE to enter a negative pressure environment to unbag all the used masks. The masks would then be loaded into the machine and come out on the other side clean, sanitized, and ready for reuse.

From vacancy to vaccine

The former RONA on Pinebush Drive in Cambridge sat empty for over a year, waiting for its next commercial big-box giant to breathe new life into the facility. In 2019, the thought of using this prime warehouse space in a bustling Smart Centre for anything but commercial purposes would have been laughable—now it’s the Region’s largest mass vaccination clinic administering over 1,000 doses a day with plans to quadruple that number as more vaccines come available.

Transforming this space was not as simple as turning on the lights and setting up tables. The Region engaged WalterFedy architects and engineers to support a fast-tracked revitalization to get the building back up and running to support its temporary function as a clinic. With the building services sitting dormant for over a year, basic infrastructure, like sprinkler lines, required rework to bring the life safety systems back up to standard. A remodelling of existing spaces was also necessary to support the refrigeration units guarding the vaccines. This meant retrofitting the electrical systems to support the fridges and adding hospital-grade receptacles. Under the emergency response order O.Reg. 141/20, a traditional building permit was not required to conduct the work of converting this space into a temporary health facility. This allowed our team, supported by an incredible group of contractors, City staff and Region staff to turn this project over in record time – a mere three weeks from start to finish.

“There was great cooperation with the City of Cambridge on this project,” said project manager and architect Michael Winters. “The building department was involved all the way through and always just a phone call away. The chief building official and fire marshal were there with us almost every walk-through which made the entire process transparent. We knew exactly what everyone was expecting, and this open line of communication laid the groundwork for the success of this project.”

“It’s amazing that a problem like a global pandemic presents itself and within a year we can establish a vaccine, and have people working collaboratively to bring facilities like these online in a matter of weeks to start helping people in our communities,” states Michael.

While the pandemic is most likely to be remembered as a time of distancing, it has fostered a remarkable coming together of community and industry to combat the spread and navigate a “new normal.” We would like to thank everyone who has had a hand in making these projects a success, from the hospital healthcare teams, regional building officials, and planners who helped conceptualize these projects to the contractors, architects, engineers, technicians, and vendors who helped realize them.

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