Saturday, November 27

Sewage seeps into the walls of the medical wing of Whangārei Hospital


Sewage is seeping into the walls of the Whangārei Hospital medical wing.

Whangarei Hospital

The first sewage leaks in the medical wing of Whangārei Hospital were discovered two months ago.
Photo: RNZ / Sam Olley

The Northland District Board of Health expects the faulty pipe to take two years to repair, at a cost of $ 2.8 million, because it is surrounded by asbestos.

The hospital was already facing a number of other infrastructure problems, also exposed by RNZ.

The roofs leak when it rains heavily, the surgical wing is tilted, and the emergency department is less than half the size recommended by Australasia guidelines.

Windows have fallen off the surgical wing and elevators have broken down with bedridden patients inside, even though repairs have increased in the past five years.

Sewage now seeps into the walls from a “sink” that spans six stories.

“On inspection, we found that it has multiple areas of failure,” Northland DHB CEO Nick Chamberlain told RNZ.

Northland DHB Executive Director Nick Chamberlain warns that vaccination numbers are declining in the area.

Nick Chamberlain.
Photo: Supplied

The first leaks were discovered two months ago.

To avoid disrupting the entire wing at once, DHB’s plan is to seal the bathroom sections, floor by floor.

“It goes one level at a time, protecting contractors and everyone from asbestos and feces,” Chamberlain said.

“There is a drain pipe and a vent pipe that need to be replaced.

“It will absolutely continue to drip until we finish, on various levels.”

The pipeline is more than 50 years old and the 120-bed medical wing serves four wards for hospitalization, rehabilitation, acute evaluation, renal needs and outpatient, as well as the special care unit for babies.

It is the “younger side” of the hospital building, compared to the 65-year-old surgical wing that is “in worse shape.”

“We’re good at fixing things, that’s what we’ve had to do for years, when we have the oldest and most run-down hospital in New Zealand,” Chamberlain said.

But patches are an ineffective use of DHB funds, because it will soon be necessary to rebuild the entire medical wing anyway.

“It costs us up to $ 10 million a year to keep the hospital running, simply because it is so old,” Chamberlain said.

The sewage leaks again emphasized the “really tough conditions” that staff and patients had to endure, he said.

Northland DHB has been seeking government funding to rebuild or remodel Whangārei Hospital since 2015, but so far nothing has been allocated.

“It is essential that our new construction is approved as soon as possible because other things are going to fail. They all pose a risk to patients and their health and safety.”

The Counties-Manukau DHB also found sewage leaks on the walls of the Scott Building at Middlemore Hospital in 2018, when pipes failed.

Chamberlain said he was “very aware of the parallels.”

As of Friday, there are 30 active Covid-19 cases in Te Tai Tokerau; so far there have been 39 in the Delta outbreak.

The DHB model predicts that cases will fill the entire medical wing, where sewage is leaking, three to five months after an uncontrolled outbreak.


www.rnz.co.nz

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