Builders part of hospital scene
Waikato Hospital has been a building zone for yearsNICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Waikato Hospital has been a building zone for years, but the end is near, writes Nicola Brennan-Tupara.
Medical staff rush along corridors, working up a sweat as they attend to the region's sick and injured.
They hold folders packed with information well beyond the understanding of a lay person.
Then they stop, suddenly - and quickly turn, shaking their head with a small grin.
What was once a corridor is now closed - a construction site.
It is a scenario Waikato Hospital staff have had to contend with for a couple of years now, as the facilities undergo a major revamp.
Waikato District Health Board chief operating officer Jan Adams said getting lost was an "everyday" occurrence - particularly for outpatients returning for checkups some six months after having their surgery.
"What was once a corridor is no longer there - and that will change again as the Meade Clinical Centre comes on board," she said.
With just six weeks until the first phase of the clinical centre opens, they were now on a "downhill run", chief executive Craig Climo said.
"This is the peak year construction-wise," he said.
In the last few years the board has built, or been building, two new multi-level carparks, a transit lounge, emergency department, neonatal intensive care unit, regional renal centre, clinical centre and older persons and rehabilitation building.
The $430 million project began in 2005 and is due for completion in 2014.
All the while the board has had to meet health targets set by the Health Ministry.
At the end of this financial year the board had managed to get 93 per cent of people through the emergency department in under six hours, exceeded the elective surgical target by 5 per cent, with 13,523 discharges, and seen 100 per cent of people needing cancer radiotherapy in less than four weeks and six weeks treated.
That they managed to achieve such results was "phenomenal", Mrs Adams said. "If you asked any one of the staff or managers they would say it's been a lot of hard work. It's meant that much of what we do, we've had to look at, and change.
"It can be very traumatic for people because you are going at the heart of what they've always done. That can feel quite threatening because they think you are saying that ‘you are not working hard enough', when what we are actually saying is ‘there's probably a better way to do things now'."
Despite that, Mrs Adams said few staff had left directly because of the rebuild - though that could change when the big moves into the new buildings occurred.
"That's when the changes really get embedded and, for some people, that might be difficult."
But in general "people have been remarkably resilient".
"We've tested the organisation to its limits every single day. We've had pile drilling going on for the new building as we've been carrying our surgical procedures. At times, but not often, we've had to say to the builders ‘you have to stop. The noise is at a level that we can't tolerate'.
"There's been times we've been sitting on the ninth floor of Menzies [building] during pile drilling and the building is shaking.
"If you are a patient in a hospital bed you don't expect that your bed is suddenly going to shake."
But the nature of working in the health sector meant staff were quite adaptable, and were taking the rebuild in their stride.
"It's a 24/7 job and no two days are the same. You never come into health and do exactly on the Tuesday, what you did on the Monday afternoon.
"So you've got a group of staff that are more flexible in their approach, because they are used to change."
While the first phase of the Meade clinic build is coming to an end, staff still have the second, third and fourth stages to contend with, as well as the Smith Building demolition and completing the older Persons and Rehabilitation building.
They also need to reduce wait times to less than five months next year and four months by 2014, all while working with a stagnant health budget.
Mrs Adams admits it is going to be a challenge.
"It means we are going to have to work more closely with general practice and the way referrals come into the hospital. We will also be working more closely with our region . . . so we'll be seeing more patients having procedures at Lakes DHB or Tauranga than we have in the past.
"That will be a change and that's something the public will have to come to terms with."
As for the funding and how that would affect staffing of these new state-of-the-art buildings, Mrs Adams responded: "Yes it's always a concern.
"We've estimated the amount off staff we'll need as best we can and it has pretty much been sorted.
"But you never really know if you've got it right - there's always that risk," she said.
"That's part of the reason we have to pay particular attention to our savings programme over the next three to five years."
Personally, Mrs Adams said she felt "very privileged" to be involved in such a massive project.
"At the end of the day this is my job and I'm paid to do it - but I love it.
"You don't get many opportunities in your life to do something as significant as a massive build programme and a radical programme of change."
The new Meade clinic will streamline outpatient procedures and make it a "one stop shop" so that people are not having to venture all over the hospital for different procedures.
It will also house bigger and nicer high-dependency and intensive care units, making it a nicer place for patients and staff alike.
"We'll have state of the art facilities. I don't think the public quite realise they'll be getting access to some pretty world class facilities."
While it'll be great to walk into flash new buildings, Mrs Adams admits it will be a strange feeling when the last builder leaves.
"We've lived in and worked in a building site for so long. I guess when all the cranes are gone and the last building is open, there's going to be a sense of ‘well it's a bit normal for a bit of time'.
"But then we'll have new targets and priorities that will require us to change."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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