Dignitaries and staff members officially opened the expanded emergency department with a ceremony at West Coast General Hospital on Nov. 10, 2023. The event took place outside the main entrance of the hospital.
The expansion, which increased the size of the emergency department by 244 square metres (2,626 square feet), cost $6.95 million and was cost-shared between the provincial government ($2.55 million), West Coast Hospital Foundation ($2.4 million), Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District ($1.7 million) and Island Health ($300,000).
Provincial health minister Adrian Dix said in a written statement that the expanded emergency department will provide people in Port Alberni and on the west coast “increased access to the emergency health services they need close to home.
“Ensuring that people have timely access to health care in their communities continues to be a top priority,” Dix added. Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne read aloud Dix’s statement and added that the expansion will bring peace of mind to people in the whole region who need emergency health care.
The grand opening comes a week after a Hesquiaht family received an apology for the way one of their elders was treated at WCGH before his passing. The family of the late Pat Charleson Jr. hand-delivered a letter to site director Derek Keller detailing their accusations of how their late father was treated, and received an apology from Dawn Thomas, Island Health vice-president of Indigenous Health.
Shaunee Casavant, Island Health board member and Nuu-chah-nulth member from Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, acknowledged on Friday there is work to be done with relations between Indigenous people and Island Health.
“We’re early in our journey as a health care system, but we are committed to working closely with families, with community and individuals,” she said.
Eunice Joe, regional executive director from the First Nations Health Authority, congratulated those gathered for completing the ER expansion. She acknowledged that “there are still care concerns here. But we want to hold up and thank the staff who do make efforts and who are committed to culturally safe service delivery.”
Tseshaht First Nation Elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) presented a paddle to Keller as an invitation “to paddle with us in terms of improving care, quality care, for everyone, everywhere, every time.”
He said he hopes the paddle will be displayed in the emergency department “to remember the commitment.
“We know that health care can be challenging and we still have work to do on our shared journey to improve the quality of care for not only Indigenous patients, but all clients,” Watts said.
The expansion includes three new patient exam beds, additional space for patients awaiting tests or results, a decontamination room in the event of chemical exposure, improvements to triage and admitting areas, increased clinical space and a dedicated entrance for ambulances. A safe, secure seclusion room for patients needing emergency mental health care is also part of the expansion.
“It’s incredible, the change,” said Tanya Kuc, clinical coordinator at WCGH. “The old emergency department was very cramped, had limited space for patients. Whereas the new space is very open, very inviting, creates a nice, safe environment for our patients. We’re able to flow patients through the department much better. “
Kuc said the new department is also good for staff morale. “We have challenges as does every site right now in terms of having adequate staffing numbers,” she said. “So having a new work environment to work within, it does help somewhat with staff morale.” She said the department also received some new equipment with the expansion, including IV pumps and baby scales.
The emergency department in 2022 had 27,715 patient visits, according to Island Health.