Critical care expansion delays keep coming

The three-year saga of the unfinished and much-needed expansion of Dunedin Hospital’s intensive care unit looks set to continue until 2024.

It will also likely cost the Southern District Health Board more than the $14.8 million budgeted after the board approved capital expenditures to try to make functional a heating and ventilation system that has stubbornly refused to operate as needed to that the service is working properly.

The problem-ridden upgrade of intensive care wards at Dunedin hospitals should have been open by March 2019, and in April 2021 SDHB estimated it still had 18 months to go before it was operational.

Now, almost a year after that, the SDHB on Wednesday approved new spending to address issues with the building’s ventilation system.

The money was approved during the public portion of the meeting and later confirmed by a board spokeswoman.

She said the council was working on an “approximate” time frame of 18 months for completion.

“No opening date has been confirmed as work is being undertaken at a fully operational hospital, which means the project needs to be staggered.”

The litany of issues that have plagued the ICU upgrade were raised in Parliament a fortnight ago by Dunedin-based National List MP Michael Woodhouse, who said the facility was still not not open was outrageous. Yesterday he said it was ‘unbelievable’ that the facility was no longer open before the urgent need had passed.

“Also, the longer they leave it, the closer we get to getting a new hospital anyway, so I think that’s an outrageous delay.”

SDHB has consent to use the ICU extension in an emergency, for example if it was inundated with Covid-19 patients, but since the ventilation system is unable to operate correctly, he would prefer not to.

The first stage of the ICU upgrade, a fully modernized 12-bed ward was officially opened in November 2018, although ventilation issues meant it was not fully utilized before the start of the ‘Next year.

The second stage, providing 10 additional beds, was due to open in mid-2019, but for this space the need to exchange air 14 times per hour was too much demand on an old ventilation system that an old council decided to detune several decades ago as a cost-cutting measure.

Engineers have since struggled to figure out how to operate around 17 ventilation systems in the building to allow air exchange to occur properly and various options including building a dedicated ventilation system for this part of the building, were considered.

Mr Woodhouse said the continued delays needed to be explained.

“It will be five years since the extension was completed, although they are on their own schedule and have managed to miss every one of them so far.”

As a former hospital administrator, Mr Woodhouse said he knew how complicated such a job could be, but was at a loss for words because of the delay in this project.

“Why the hell did it take so long and why the hell does it need to take so long now? That raises more questions than it answers.”

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