La Verendrye receives funding for new generator

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

In the wake of several lengthy planned power outages that have affected most of the Rainy River District in one way or another, the provincial government has provided funding that will help to ensure critical health infrastructure at La Verendrye General Hospital in Fort Frances can continue running even during an unplanned power outage.

During an announcement made outside the hospital last Thursday, September 14, 2023, Kenora-Rainy River District MPP Greg Rickford shared that the province was providing the hospital a total of $383,446 through the Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund and Community Infrastructure Renewal Fund so that the hospital can purchase and replace one of the generators currently running at the hospital. The generators help to keep critical parts of the hospital running during any power outage, including the operating and emergency rooms, as well as other key players like diagnostics.

“Our government recognizes the unique challenges faced by health care providers, particularly in the Northwest,” Rickford said.

“Through the Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund, our investment in the La Verendrye General Hospital supports a new backup generator, ensuring reliable access to care for families in Fort Frances and surrounding areas.”

Riverside Health Care CEO Henry Gauthier noted that the money would allow them to purchase what is in essence a third generator for the hospital, with the possibility of another generator to be purchased some time in the future, which will increase the amount of power the hospital has access to during an outage and allow for more careful monitoring of how much power is being used by other departments, like diagnostic imaging.

“The reason we’re doing that is there are some less essential areas in the site that don’t have power requirements met during outages, and we want to get to the point where there is full coverage throughout our facility during those times,” Gauthier explained.

“Let’s not forget the importance of diagnostics today, right? Our diagnostic imaging, laboratory services, without the reliance on the generator during unplanned and planned power outages we couldn’t maintain the services.”

Gauthier noted the project has to be completed by March of next year, though there is already work being done with the government to modify the time frame as the current expected wait time for such a generator to make it to the hospital is estimated to be 52 week. However, the current generators are still functional, which means that the hospital will still be able to run many of its services even during an unplanned power outage in town.

Gauthier noted, however, that there are other programs reliant on a stable and consistent supply of power to the hospital outside of the Operating Room, Emergency Department and Diagnostic Imaging. Riverside’s vice-president of Clinical Services Julie Loveday was invited to explain the hospitals’ Critical Care Response (CCR) program, which is essentially a teleconferencing system that liaises with the intensive care unit at Thunder Bay Regional Hospital to allow for connected care across the region in several ways.

“What [CCR] does is if somebody comes in in critical care, we plug in a camera and it goes directly to the intensive care unit at Thunder Bay Regional, so we have that expertise readily available,” Loveday said.

“It’s a huge program, it was about standardizing medication, expediting transfer of patients. [Thunder Bay Regional] is always available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So nursing can initiate it, physicians can initiate, it’s always available. We love it. We were a pilot site when it started and we’re big, big supporters of the program.”

Kenora Rainy-River MPP Greg Rickford, centre, was at La Verendrye General Hospital in Fort Frances on Thursday, September 14, 2023 to announce $383,446 in funding for Riverside Health Care to purchase a new generator to help keep critical services at the hospital running in the event of planned or unplanned power outages. – Ken Kellar photo

Loveday elaborated on some of the things that can be accomplished as part of the CCR, including sharing mechanical ventilator settings, how certain medications can be mixed to avoid transport delays through Orgne, basically ensuring that certain standards are upheld across different health care providers within the network.

MPP Rickford, a former nurse, elaborated on the funding provided by the province, as well as just how crucial a backup power system is within a hospital, noting that without it, hospitals can’t operate in a consistent fashion, which then in turn can lead to dire outcomes for patients.

“Without those generators, hospitals can’t operate,” Rickford said.

“Particularly when they’re compromised, or when there’s a surge in activity within the hospital itself. So the Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund, up in Kenora it’s about expanding the emergency room and fixing a roof. In Dryden the other day, it was about a chiller which is used to protect the supply chain of pharmaceutical projects, as well as some enhancements to their HVAC system. Here in Fort Frances, it was about replacing a generator. There are the kinds of things that, as we’ve learned, don’t just operationally support as backup and for surges, but also support critical technology with other hospitals when it’s required.”

Rickford noted that without that spare generator, the hospital could choose to prioritize its services in the event of an outage or surge, but seeing as the modern day medical field is so driven by electronic technology, the province wanted to make sure the hospital was not compromised and didn’t have to make those kinds of decisions.

‘We wanted to make sure that the hospital in particular was not compromised in any way, shape or form, and that the kind of generator capacity that they would require would support a fully functioning hospital in, for example, the recent power outage that the region experienced,” he said.