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$6.2M expansion at West Coast General Hospital brings improvement to patient care

Plans include seclusion room for people in crisis, separate entrance for ambulances
Dr. Dorothy (Sam) Williams, chief of staff and medical director for West Coast General Hospital, checks out an artist’s rendering of the remodeled emergency department. An official groundbreaking for the $6.2-million expansion took place Oct. 8, 2021, although construction began in September. (PHOTO COURTESY ISLAND HEALTH)

PORT ALBERNI — Construction is officially underway to expand the emergency department at West Coast General Hospital. Work began more than a month ago, but an official “groundbreaking” was delayed until Oct. 8.

The $6.2-million expansion is designed to improve patient care and privacy for people visiting the facility from around the region.

“West Coast General Hospital is an important part of the community for residents in the area, including Port Alberni, Tofino, Ucluelet, Bamfield, Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations, Uchucklesaht Tribe, Huu-ay-aht and Ditidaht First Nations, Ucluelet Government, Toquaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “The work underway will help relieve the congestion of this very busy hospital that sees more than 25,000 patient visits to the emergency department each year.”

The redevelopment will include a 244-square-metre (2,626-square-foot) expansion. Improvements will feature three new patient exam beds, extra space for patients awaiting tests and results, improvements to the triage and admitting area, and a second dedicated entrance for ambulances and RCMP, separate from the public entrance.

“We’d like to keep these two populations separate just so there’s more privacy and confidentiality,” said Dr. Tim Van Aerde, emergency department medical lead at WCGH.

A private, safe seclusion room for patients in need of emergency mental health care will also be included. Currently, patients who are agitated or violent and need emergency mental health care are located in an assessment room near the waiting area. A seclusion room will provide added security and privacy, Van Aerde said.

“For people who need mental-health care in Port Alberni, Tofino and the surrounding communities, the expansion of the West Coast General Hospital emergency department will be a game changer, as we are doing this work with them front of mind,” said Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions.

“Together, we’re building a system where treatment for mental health is on par with any other health condition. I’m grateful to everyone involved in making this development a reality.”

“It’s exciting to see this project underway to upgrade the emergency department,” said Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim. “The work being done will improve patient privacy and make it easier for small family groups and support people to accompany their loved ones during what are often stressful times for people.”

The cost is shared between the provincial government, which is providing $2.55 million, West Coast General Hospital Foundation, which has pledged $2 million, and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District, which will contribute $1.7 million.

“It is so exciting to have this eagerly anticipated upgrade to our community hospital come to fruition,” said Dr. Robert O’Dwyer, WCGH Foundation president. “Once again, the citizens of this ‘town with a heart’ have come through and helped make Port Alberni a better place to live.”

Expanding and improving the emergency department at WCGH is going to make a big difference for the community, says Chris Francey, business director for the WCGH Foundation. Francey has been in charge of the fundraising campaign launched earlier this year to raise the foundation’s portion of the expansion cost.

“The West Coast General Hospital Foundation has pledged $2 million because we believe it is the right thing to do for all of the families who will need the services of this hospital in the future,” he said.

Kinetic Construction is leading the project construction for the emergency department expansion, which is expected to be ready for patients in December 2022.

The West Coast General Hospital opened in 2001 at its present location and has 52 beds.

Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne chats with two other officials prior to an official “groundbreaking” photo opp indicating shovels are in the ground for the $6.2-million West Coast General Hospital emergency department expansion. (PHOTO COURTESY ISLAND HEALTH)