When Mount Sinai Hospital announced plans this week to build a new healing and respite area with a $6-million donation, it was one of many steps toward keeping up with the challenges of being housed in a 40-year-old building.
The gift, courtesy of law and business professionals Jay and Barbara Hennick, falls in line with the hospital's Renew Sinai plan, designed to refresh one-third of its space with six new floors, 19 state-of-the-art operating rooms and eight modernized inpatient units.
The aging institution is among others in Toronto trying to keep up with hospitals like Bridgepoint Health that have newer facilities.
According to David Pichora, a surgical professor at Queen's University and the CEO of Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, Ont., keeping a hospital up-to-date requires a combination of physical structure and equipment improvements.
"In principle, if you've got a new building, hopefully it is designed to be more efficient to provide better quality care," he said.
He adds that the job of keeping the buildings modern is made tougher by the strain on health care from an aging population.
Matthew Morgan, the vice-president of patient experience at Mount Sinai's University Avenue location, knows this struggle all too well.
"We are looking after patients that are sicker than before and we are dealing with more complex issues than before," he said. "We've had to begin modernizing our building to deal with the volume and complexities of our population."
He said one of the ways Mount Sinai is keeping up with the times is through its new neonatal unit, scheduled for completion in the fall.
Dr. Morgan said the hospital's original unit featured rows of incubators in a room. Since then, research and development have shown single-incubator rooms are more effective because they offer families "their own space to be much more involved in the life of a potentially-ill baby." A newer hospital could develop such rooms from the beginning. When studies began to show the benefits of single-incubator rooms, the hospital had to build them from scratch under the Renew Sinai initiative.
Other modernizations are needed to improve the conditions in waiting rooms where patients' loved ones camp out.
"We are rethinking everything from the colours of the paint, access to the Internet, lighting and ability to recharge your cell phone," Dr. Morgan said. "If you have to wait, we are committed to making it worthwhile."
Mount Sinai vice-president of advancement Kevin Goldthorp said the hospital will also use some of the Hennick donation to address a need for calming spaces by building a separate room with glass walls and simple design as "a break from the hubbub of outside."
Mount Sinai is not the only hospital embarking on an effort to stay current.
Sunnybrook Hospital's vice-president of development, Sam Marafioti, says replacing old infrastructure has been on the top-five priorities list year after year.
While competition from newer hospitals required Sunnybrook to update its education programs and expand its operating rooms to deal with patients needing more critical care, he said many problems develop simply because of time.
For example, the age of some of Sunnybrook's buildings created a need to improve electrical transformers after 23 power outages this year, and old plumbing that was hit hard during flooding in the summer.
"We must have had 30-40 floods that punctured the foundation," he said. "I've been here since 1989, and I've never seen the code brown being called as often as it was that day."
Despite challenges at Sunnybrook and Mount Sinai, Dr. Pichora said, "hospitals are constantly evaluating what they've got and planning for the future."