Toronto East General – March 2nd

As I mentioned, staff at Toronto East General Hospital (Mortimer and Coxwell) are working toward a major renovation of the hospital.  There is a community meeting, hosted by the City’s planning department, on Wednesday, March 2nd from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at the East York Civic Centre at 850 Coxwell.

Proposed design, view from Coxwell and Sammon

DECA’s executive committee was invited to tour the hospital with the CEO, the executive lead for the project and the lead architect.  Both the executive lead and the lead architect live in DECA’s boundaries.  And as the CEO said, he ‘lives’ at the hospital and occasionally visits his home.

The plan is to first build a new building on Sammon where the existing parking lot is.  Once complete, they would move all the beds from the front wings on Coxwell over to the new Sammon wing.  They’d then tear down the front wings on Coxwell and create a large green space.  Parking would be underground and there would be a larger circular entrance.  Two changes, I’m told, will ease the traffic on Coxwell and help the parking problems on surrounding streets.

To give you a sense of what we saw on the tour, I’ll start at the end.  We walked out the door and one of our number turned to me and said, “I’m never taking my kids to that hospital.”

This is why.

Although there are many amazing doctors, nurses and other staff at TEGH, some of the space they work in is sub-standard.

There is a unit that is so old the beds don’t fit into the rooms, except on an angle.  If the procedure requires more than one nurse, that person stands in the hall.  The next patient lies in a bed about five feet away waiting.  To clean the used equipment, nurses walk soiled equipment past the next patient waiting in the hall.  If you weren’t sick before you went into the hospital, there’s a chance you will be before you leave.  Modern hospitals have negative pressure rooms to prevent infections, the old parts of TEGH have little mash-style tents that fit over a single bed.

Single rooms are rare.  There are even some ward rooms on the medical floors with six beds in one room…sharing one bathroom.  More commonly there are double or quad rooms in the medical wings.

We went through a clinic that isn’t wide enough to fit a gurney or a wheelchair.  The urology clinic looks like it’s straight out of the 1940s.  It’s a shame those procedures are done with just a local anesthetic because it can’t be comforting to feel like you’re having surgery on the set of an old movie.

Floors on one wing don’t line up with the floors on the next so there are mini flights of stairs – say 8 or 9 – to get from floor to floor.  And an accompanying elevator that takes you up that short distance.

The air vents were built before air conditioning so it’s been tacked on over time making the ceilings in some areas very low, not to mention not very environmentally sound.  The sewage backs up in the basement on a regular basis.  Not grey water sewage.  Real hospital sewage.  The plumbing and electrical can’t be renovated to keep up with the demands of modern medicine.

The hospital had a number of architects and engineers look at the option of using the old parts of the building for clinics or offices, but determined the space simply could not be used for patient care.  To convert the space into commercial or medical offices would be wildly expensive given the need for asbestos removal, all new mechanical, heating, cooling etc.

I thought the architect summed it up best when he said “the bottom line is that people in East York aren’t getting the same care as people who live in other parts of the city.”

It reminded me of why we started DECA, because our neighbourhood wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.

The hospital has a neighbourhood advisory group and has been meeting with immediate neighbours about this plan for a few years.  One of the biggest concerns of immediate neighbours is obviously what construction will bring – noise, parking and traffic.  Neighbours on the surrounding streets complain staff and patients park on the side streets and take up valuable street parking.  That was one of the key considerations of the new plan to build the underground parking.

Yes, they took us on the ‘bad and ugly tour.’  They didn’t walk us through the emergency department which was recently renovated and much more efficient and pleasant to be in (if you have to be in the ER).  Same with the maternity wing, also recently renovated, and, I’m told, quite nice by my friends who’ve given birth there.  Those won’t change.

DECA was asked early on for its opinions on the hospital.  We made suggestions regarding greening and incorporating art, especially community art space.  We also spoke very strongly on keeping and showcasing some of the heritage pieces such as the stained glass windows in the lobby (the staff had already suggested that one) and creating an audio-visual historical representation so benefactors would be remembered and important parts of the hospital’s history would be incorporated into the design of the new hospital (they agreed).  We’ve also made suggestions about the possibilities of opening some of the spaces up for use by community members (they’re considering it).  I understand at one of the public open houses that have been held, some residents suggested incorporating the curved glass that is currently in the main lobby.  The architect said that could be done so it is now in the plan.

The March 2nd community meeting is the time for city staff and politicians to hear your views, both positive and negative. It’s not the kind of meeting where you have to stand in front and give a presentation.  It’s just a community meeting where you can raise your hand and say your piece if you wish.  If you want to just sit and listen, you can do that too.  I will say that if you’re in favour of the renovation, you should show up and say so because if only people who are against it show up, it will suggest the community is not in favour of a new hospital.

The DECA board feels strongly that renovations should proceed.  The residents of Danforth East deserve a modern hospital where they will have the privacy and standard of care all Canadians expect.