- BC Games
Patient sounds alarm over asbestos removal at Penticton hospital
Asbestos removal within Penticton Regional Hospital has been underway for years, although one patient wishes she knew that before spending three days in a room beside the latest project area.
“I wouldn’t have let them put me there. I would have refused,” said Jessica Doucet.
The 29-year-old Penticton woman was admitted to PRH with a kidney condition on Oct. 19 and given a room on the second floor. As she was being wheeled there, she noticed the entrance to the neighbouring suite was completely blocked off.
The doorway appeared to be covered over with a plywood enclosure that protruded into the hallway. A black tube snaked around from one side of the enclosure to the other, and what looked like a vent seemed to be only partly covered with tape. She also saw workers exit the room into the hallway, where they stripped off their white suits.
Doucet asked several nurses what was going on next door before finally being told workers were removing asbestos from that room.
Inhaling significant quantities of airborne asbestos particles can lead to respiratory disease and cancer, according to Health Canada.
Doucet wonders how the safety of the work can be completely assured in a busy hospital, particularly on the second floor of PRH where the maternity ward is located.
“If I was a mother that gave birth when they were removing asbestos, I would be pissed,” Doucet said. “I’m sure that all of the women in there having babies didn’t know that.”
Grayhawk Industries, the Kelowna company carrying out the work, referred a request for comment to Interior Health.
Lori Motluk, a senior hospital administrator, said Grayhawk specializes in removal of hazardous materials and follows WorkSafeBC guidelines for handling asbestos.
“As well, we have an environmental consultant who works alongside them to monitor the air quality in the affected area,” she said.
The $80,000 project, which began Oct. 15 and is expected to take six weeks, involves the removal of asbestos from the ceiling space above the PRH nursery and a single room on the maternity-gynecology unit.
Motluk said the nursery will be temporarily relocated while work is underway there, and the room beside Doucet’s has also been made safe so patients and staff can remain in the vicinity.
“That room would have been cordoned off, sealed and under negative pressure,” the administrator insisted, adding “there was no risk of exposure” for Doucet.
“It’s really important for patients and families to realize we are taking every precaution to ensure there’s no risk,” Motluk said.
Asbestos was commonly used in building products when PRH was constructed in the 1950s, and there is a plan in place to remove the hazardous material from the site in stages as time and money permit.
The local head of the B.C. Nurses’ Union said the current project has been a hassle for hospital workers.
“There are lots of areas that are draped off, there’s plastic screens in there, there’s piping basically to remove stuff from the building, so nurses have to navigate around that,” said Kevin Barry, a PRH staffer and member of the union’s regional executive.
Barry said although he hasn’t “heard directly from any nurses who aren’t happy with how it’s being done, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.”