The Mountaineer - Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada
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New OR opens at Rocky hospital

By Glen Mazza

A few years ago, members of the new build project were astounded when they were told the Rocky Health Foundation would raise $750,000 to help equip a proposed new operating room at the Rocky Mountain House Health Centre. 

That pledge sparked a years-long process to build the $9.75 million addition to the Health Centre that saw its first surgery on June 3. The addition includes a new state-of-the-art operating room (OR), medical equipment reprocessing room and pre/post surgery patient area.

Over the years, the original operating room was shut down numerous times due to roof problems and water leaks. The original reprocessing room – where instruments were cleaned and sterilized – was not efficient nor in an adequate location.

At one point, the solution was to construct a new hospital, until things changed and an extensive investment from the province led to replacement of the existing roof along with extensive electrical and plumbing upgrades.

Rocky Health Foundation chair Shirley Hope was, before her retirement, the site manager at the Health Centre and she said the team dealt with the imperfect situation the best they could. She explained they did not want to lose the OR which could also mean a loss of obstetric services in the community.

“We value care close to home wherever possible,” stated Hope.

“Over the years we have worked to have surgeons and anesthetists living in our community to support caesarean sections as part of the maternity program. We currently have a gynecologist and general surgeon offering surgery at the site and supporting C-sections.

“AHS is also supporting total knee replacements at the facility with surgeon specialists coming from Red Deer. Along with the ortho surgery it will also be available for gynecological and general surgery. The old OR will be used for procedures such as gastroscopy, colonoscopy and minor skin surgery. It will also continue to be used as a back up OR for emergency C-sections as needed,” Hope explained.

Heath Foundation co-chair Anne Stewart said the project was launched due to the collaboration of many individuals including MLA Jason Nixon.

“I’m very excited for Rocky Mountain House and Clearwater County … I worked really hard on this for two reasons. One is I want to make sure that we have more access to surgeries where we live, but also I just think it’s going to be a great way —if we prove this concept — to show that we can use rural hospitals to help alleviate surgical concerns, which brings more stability and financial stability to our hospital,” stated Nixon on May 31.

The province was pursuing a surgical capacity plan to deal with growing waiting lists and Rocky Mountain House became a site deemed for a new OR.

Rocky Health Foundation fundraising

Rocky Health Foundation co-chair Anne Stewart, along with Shirley Hope and coordinator Angie Breault, met with The Mountaineer on June 3 and they emphasized the gratitude of their entire board for the donations from the community and businesses. The donations have ranged from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands and the foundation emphasizes every single dollar is appreciated and well used. The foundation is volunteer-based and the coordinator’s position is covered by a grant, so all the donated funds go to purchasing equipment for the hospital. The foundation points out that they only fund things that have been turned down by AHS funding.

The organization recently raised enough to cover its initial $750,000 commitment.

Additional needs totaling $250,000 were identified and have also been supported.

The needs list continues to grow and additional funds will be used to meet the requests from the OR team. Some donors have pledged future funding because they know certain equipment will not last and will need replacement. In addition, some of the recent fundraising has been earmarked for other areas of the hospital.
Before the foundation funds equipment, the funding request goes to AHS first and the foundation steps in when costs cannot be covered.

Hope noted the local Hospital Auxiliary was the only dedicated funding organization for years and they continue their immense support of the Health Centre, along with providing scholarships.

It was emphasized that AHS funded the specialized orthopedic surgical equipment and orthopaedic surgeons will be coming from the city. The OR nurses reside in the area as they must be on call for emergency surgery such as C-sections.  

The recent additions made at the hospital will change the dynamics for patients and staff.

“With more space and modern equipment, the new operating room can accommodate a wider range of procedures. This expands the range of health care services available locally and patients can receive surgery in a more comfortable and technologically advanced environment. This can lead to better outcomes, reduces anxiety, and overall satisfaction with the experience,” remarked Dr. Azita Hanjani who specializes in surgery, obstetrics and gynecology in Rocky Mountain House.

Health Foundation treasurer Dale Shippelt has reached out to many businesses, health care staff members and area residents about the foundation’s efforts and also to express gratitude.

“It is important for the foundation board to say a big thank you to our community for the support the foundation has received. We are proud of the continual support we have received and continue to receive,” Shippelt said.