SASKATOON -- Safety concerns at Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford that could put lives at risk should be addressed immediately, according to an external audit.

The $407 million hospital opened March 2019. Just months after opening, high copper and lead levels were detected in the hospital’s water. In May 2019, the province announced the entire roof would have to be repaired because of water leakage issues.

In March 2020 the province said an issue with the sewage prompted a water advisory at the hospital. During the water advisory, the province announced it hired an independent company to conduct an audit of the facility.

“Generally, the workmanship in the finishes and construction of the building are complete to a competent level. Deficiencies were observed throughout the facility to varying degrees of magnitude, but this is not unexpected in a facility of this size. Caulking of dissimilar materials, choice and installation of finishes, and building layout and design were generally achieving the requirements of the Project Agreement,” according to the JPH Consulting report.

However, JPH noted several immediate concerns:

Significant ligature risk

The hospital has a confused approach to anti-ligature requirements — measures meant to prevent individuals from harming themselves. Several doors have anti-ligature handles, but parallel arm door closers are mounted to the interior of the frame. Closers concealed in the door frame, floor or a hinge-based closer are more appropriate hardware solutions with respect to meeting anti-ligature needs.

Issues with exits

Egress paths differ from what was planned according to the audit. In the workshop area, a path of egress leads to an overhead door which does not meet National Building Code requirements for an exit. It is expected that these rooms are large enough to also require two means of egress which was not observed. Exiting and life safety should be reviewed more thoroughly across the entirety of the facility.

‘Limited’ sprinkler coverage

Several doors in fire separations where the door leaf did not appear to be appropriately fire rated, or the necessary hardware were not included. Doors in fire separations were observed to be propped open in administrative spaces. Sprinkler coverage, specifically in the exit stairwells, appeared to be limited. It was observed that one head was typically provided at the top of the stairwell and one at the bottom landing, but none at the intermediate landings.

‘Harsh’ acoustics, privacy issues

Staff had noted several concerns with acoustics throughout the facility including the Video Court, Visiting Centre and Administration and Discharge units where rooms for secure conversations can be heard from the lobby and where the acoustics inside the room are so harsh that the judges using the video court system are not able to hear the patient. 

A patient wing was found to be missing acoustic insulation in the walls which separate the washrooms from the corridor – it is not clear how many other locations have been missed as well. Door hardware such as gaskets and sweeps were often ill-fitting or missing entirely.

Compounding the concerns with acoustics, most ventilation within the building is loud.

Building navigation

Wayfinding is difficult within the building due to a lack of access to views of the exterior for orientation, and the design decision to use a very limited colour palette. The choice to name the wings River or Prairie View is not terribly effective as there is so little access to exterior views outside of the patient wings.

Infection prevention and control

Over time, the wooden bumper rail throughout the main corridors in the unsecured portion of the facility may become a porous material which will lead to infection prevention and control concerns.

'A lot of players involved' in construction

The auditors also found a "large amount of items that can be classified as construction deficiencies" that show signs of "inconsistent quality control," "rushed work" and "poor quality installation across most trades."

The province said Graham Construction will be footing the bill to address the building deficiencies. 

Graham Construction Chief Financial Officer Tim Heavenor said the cost to fix all the problems will be in the “millions.”

“In the case of the Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford project, an unusual number of issues arose — largely outside of our control,” Heavenor said.

“There were a couple more things that happened here that we hadn’t anticipated, but things happen.”

Heavenor said one example of an unexpected problem was the product used for the building roof and siding. The product shrank after it was installed, which created gaps, and it had to be fixed. 

No other public building in Saskatchewan has undergone this type of audit process before, according to the province. 

Kyle Toffan, president and CEO of SaskBuilds, said government learned “key things about operations” during the audit. 

“One thing to keep in mind of this project, was that there were ... a lot of players involved. We have to have, from a government standpoint, one project director that’s responsible for anything related to deficiencies and communication with the contractor,” Toffan said. 

The government expects to address the 200 construction deficiencies by March.

"Government initiated this independent audit to fully understand the state of the facility to ensure the safety of patients, staff and families,” Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said in a news release.

“The audit is a snapshot in time that provides a foundation to address any deficiencies at no cost to government under the unique protections provided through the Public-Private-Partnership Project Agreement," Cheveldayoff said.