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.

0 comments to “Toronto East General – March 2nd”
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  2. I agree we deserve a modern hospital, however, I have one exception with the proposal and that is with the destruction of the original art-deco facade. surely there is a way to preserve one of the few remaining examples of this architectural style in our city (and a distinct feature of East York), while modernising the interior of the original wings.

  3. While I like preserving significant architecture – I think the Facadism trend in Toronto is just not worth it. You end up ruining two buildings. Neither one has any value once it is complete.

    I would like TEGH to focus on functional space for healing instead.

  4. Just cause something is old doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping… I’d prefer to have a new hospital over an old building.

  5. @Darryl – I am sure the architects will develop a facade that blends in with the community. I rarely put any faith in the renderings that come out because the final product is often very different. Let’s not jump to conclusions that the new building will be ruined because of a facade.

    The functional program space for healing cannot coexist in the current facility. I’m not sure if you’ve read the blog, but there is no way to bring modern functional programming into a facility that does not support the requirements.

    I also disagree with your comments regarding value. A new facility will be invaluable to our community as it will support all the programs and functions any modern hospital should.

    You cannot simply base the value of a hospital on the looks.

  6. There is a way to keep the oroginal look with out destroying the original building, while modernising it at the same time. I’m still amazed that theposters here want to destroy one of the only unique architectural features left in neighborhood. This type of thinking has stripped Toronto of a lot of it’s original character (in built form) and made it a largely faceless and bland place. Surely theres a middle way to appease both needs.

  7. Re Gary’s comment: I agree completely. Gut the interior and start from scratch. Keep the original building stucture and its exterior architechtural features, and perhaps the interior lobby area as well. The rest is fair game and can be gutted and rebuilt to modern standards. Tearing the whole thing down makes no sense to me.

  8. What gives anybody the right to comment? Are any of you educated in architecture or engineering? If you are not, keep your comments to yourself. Take it for what it is and realize what you are.

    And to gary – you want character? Go to Europe and take a history course.

    And there is no architectural uniqueness to the neighborhood.

    Not to say that one should be walked all over, but remember that you are living in a depressed area with no real value.

    Let the educated experts figure it out, not the uneducated who live in the area.

  9. I encourage you to come in for a tour of the old building before making your minds up about the value. Please let me know if you are interested.

    Shelley Darling
    Toronto East General Hospital

  10. @ John Drohan:

    I don’t usually respond to ad hominem attacks, but since this is my neighbourhood I will take the time to respond to your points.

    What gives me the right to comment? I live in the immediate vicinity of the hospital. I can see it from my bedroom window and I walk past it twice a day, every day. My kids were also born there and it’s a major part of this neighbourhood. My neighbours and I are exactly the type of people who have the right to comment on this.

    There is no architectural uniqueness to this area? Well then I guess you’re the only person in Toronto who hasn’t heard of the ubiquitous East York bungalow. But that’s beside the point; the original wings (and especially the C wing) are beautiful buildings, and I believe they should be preserved, at least in part and as much as is feasible. Yes, ultimately the services that are provided within the buildings is what matters the most, but I don’t believe it’s an “all or nothing” scenario. Sure, I may be wrong, but I can point to numerous examples throughout the world where buildings have been modernized while maintaining the existing structures.

    A depressed area? I guess if you compare this part of East York to the Beaches or Leaside, sure, real estate values are depressed. But given the fact that the last few houses on my street sold for close to $700,000, and a fixer-upper will set you back close to $500,000, I’m not really concerned.

    Your last sentence really takes the cake. I can’t comment on behalf of all my neighbours, but I will say that we all appear to have mothers who at least taught us some manners.

  11. Typical – probably rarely been outside of the country and seen what the world of ‘architecture’ has to offer. You want architecture – Go to Buenos Aries, London (England, not Ontario in case you were wondering), Paris, Santiago, Rome, Amsterdam etc…

    You want reality – go see if Starbucks is open in your area. You want reality – look at the typical average income or education level in the area. So yes – very depressed compared to York Mills/Forest Hill/Beaches/Lawrence Park. Leaside too, though only as a result of the previous areas becoming even more expensive. You want reality – unless you have a degree in architecture or engineering – do not comment about things. I have a Masters in Business Admin and for fun, did a law degree. I will comment on business and law or other things with facts – not just because I walk past something. I have moved out of the area because I am sick and tired of people commenting and being ‘experts’ of nothingness.

    So what you live across from there or your kids were born there? I was born at St. Mike’s – does that mean that I should hold Queen and Church close to my heart? Come on.

    Hey – enjoy your ‘unique bungalows’.

  12. So why exactly are you coming to this site/blog? Your disdain for the area makes it rather odd that you’re spending time here. And your assumptions about me and others in this neighbourhood are laughable. I’ve been out of the country enough times (and to places on your list, no less) to see what the world has to offer, but it has also made me appreciate Toronto even more. However, one of our shortcomings is our unwillingness to respect our recent past, and I wish we would do more to preserve what we have.

    As for Starbucks, I’ll take Seb’s Cappuccino over it any day, thanks.

  13. Wow, John, you’re so cultured. I’ve never heard of “Buenos Aries”, but I’m sure it’s a nice place…

  14. So I decided to take up Shelley Darling’s offer for a tour of the building today. I went in not knowing quite what to expect; I knew what a lot of the problems were with the original structures, and I’ve also attended enough public meetings where proponents of a certain plan are merely going through the motions of consulting the community, rather than taking any concerns seriously. With these thoughts in my mind, I was greeted by Shelley, Carmine Stumpo and Rob Devitt, the President and CEO of TEGH. As they greeted me, I assumed (rather logically) that there must be several other people attending this tour. But when I was led into a room adjacent to Mr Devitt’s office, I realized this was going to be an exclusive tour for me. Not only that, Mr Devitt proceeded to outline all of the steps and the path that led them to finally decide that a new structure would be required. A quick summary: they initially planned on renovating the original structures but realized there would be several insurmountable obstacles (many of which are listed in the above post). What surprised me is that they took the additional steps of consulting with some developers about the possibility of re-using the original structures for other purposes (condos, seniors’ residence, that sort of thing). These developers also had serious reservations about the ability to re-purpose these structures, and ultimately the decision was made that the buildings couldn’t be part of any future plans for the site. Again, I won’t go into the many other details that Mr Devitt outlined. Suffice it to say that they did their due diligence before reaching this decision. And that’s a very significant point. I was under the mistaken impression that these old structures were being cast aside without any regard for their architectural or historical significance, but in fact the opposite is true. In addition, this isn’t going to be another ad-hoc addition to TEGH. There is a 50-year plan to redevelop the entire site and turn it into a far more cohesive campus than what we have today. This should bring much more unity to the various buildings and address most of the problems that exist there today.
    After speaking to me for about 15 minutes, Mr Devitt left me with Shelley and Carmine to tour some of the problems areas he had described. Both were very receptive to suggestions, and in fact Carmine indicated that the original rendering for the new structure on Sammon was outdated and that revisions had been made based on community input. Several existing features of the original buildings will be incorporated into the new structure, and they expect to have new renderings soon. However, the process still isn’t closed, nor is the design set in stone. For example, I mentioned that incorporating some of the old brick in the new building, whether inside the lobby, outside around the entrance or as part of the new garden fronting onto Coxwell, is something I would want to see if we’re going to lose the old buildings. They agreed and were very receptive. I also suggested that as the project proceeds, presentations could be set-up at EYCC for the community to have direct access to view and comment on many of the options that will be available for the new building. They agreed and referenced a hospital in Peterborough that did exactly this, and their plan is to keep the community involved in a very direct way throughout the whole process.
    So, has my opinion changed? Well, I will say that my position has softened considerably. I’m still upset that we are going to lose the original buildings, and I still wish they could have been preserved somehow. But overall, I have to admit it’s hard to argue with their plan.

  15. Pingback: Toronto East General gets a boost | Danforth Secord Community Blog

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