The newly expanded WCGH emergency department, complete with its own entrance, is now complete.
While the renovated department has been operating for several months, the $6.95 million expansion completion was celebrated by Island Health at a ribbon cutting ceremony held Nov. 10, 2023, at the main hospital entrance.
The latest WCGH opened in 2001 with 52 in-patient beds. According to Island Health, the emergency department saw 25, 715 patient visits in 2022. WCGH serves Port Alberni and surrounding west coast communities from Hot Springs Cove, Ahousaht, Tofino and Ucluelet.
“Located on the traditional territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, the emergency department at WCGH has been expanded by 244 square metres (2,626 square feet),” Island Health stated in a news release. “The expansion includes three new patient exam beds, additional space for patients awaiting tests and results, the addition of a safe, secure seclusion room for patients in need of emergency mental health care, improvements to the triage and admitting area, increased clinical space, and a dedicated entrance for ambulances.”
When the expansion began in 2021, MLA Josie Osborne stated that the West Coast General Hospital is an important part of the community and region. She said the busy hospital saw more than 25,000 patient visits to the emergency department in 2019-20 from not only Port Alberni, but also Tofino, Ucluelet, Bamfield and surrounding areas.
“It’s great to see action being taken to upgrade the emergency department, which will improve patient privacy and make it easier for larger family groups to accompany their loved ones,” said Osborne.
Several Nuu-chah-nulth leaders attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 10. All offered words of praise for the investment made in the hospital, but they also acknowledged that they continue to receive complaints about racism experienced by their members in the healthcare system.
“We need to figure out ways to respectfully move forward,” said NTC Vice-President Les Doiron, who was facilitating the ceremony.
Doiron had just come from a meeting with hospital administrators and other community leaders to discuss these and other issues.
Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts noted that while there is work to be done, he thanked Island Health for coming to the table.
“We acknowledge that there is much work with few resources, and I know we can always do better,” he said.
Watts presented a hand-carved paddle to Site Manager Derek Keller, inviting the hospital administration to paddle with First Nations moving forward.
Eunice Joe, regional health liaison for the First Nations Health Authority, congratulated the partners on the new expansion, and she added that she wanted to hold up the hospital staff as they continue to work toward culturally safe quality care for all people.
The cost of the expansion was shared by the provincial government ($2.55 million), WCGH Foundation ($2.4 million), the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional Hospital District ($1.7 million) and Island Health ($300,000).
“This expansion of emergency health service means that people throughout the region will have increased access to health care professionals and facilities,” said Osborne.
Dr. Robert O’Dwyer, president of the WCGH Foundation, said that the hospital’s emergency department has been working in an overcrowded space for many years.
“It is so exciting to have this eagerly anticipated upgrade to our community hospital come to fruition,” he said before thanking all those that contributed to the cost, including the citizens of Port Alberni.
He noted that the foundation set a goal of $2 million to contribute to the expansion, but, thanks to donors, $2.4 million was raised. The additional funds were used in the expansion, covering the rising construction costs.