Upgraded suites to boost surgical care at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre

November 29, 2022

FORT McMURRAY– Upgrades and renovations to all six operating rooms (ORs) at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre are ongoing, enhancing surgical capabilities and improving patient care at the local hospital.

Four ORs at the Alberta Health Services (AHS) facility are being upgraded to minimally invasive surgical suites (MIS suites) for minimally invasive general, gynecologic, orthopedic and spinal surgeries. Two other ORs will receive renovations and upgrades, including new surgical lights.

The $6.3-million project is funded through donations to the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign, which ran from 2016-2019 in the Wood Buffalo region, raising $16 million for community healthcare improvements from more than 1,000 donors.

“Albertans care about their healthcare, and it’s heartening to see how the generosity of Wood Buffalo residents is making a difference in the lives of others,” says Health Minister Jason Copping. “Making minimally invasive surgery more accessible in the community will mean better outcomes and faster recoveries for many Albertans who need these procedures.”

“I am delighted to see the improvements to surgical care at our hospital. I am so impressed by the efforts of the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign, which challenged our community to step up and make a difference,” says Brian Jean, MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director of the Northern Lights Health Foundation, says this project will fundamentally change how surgery is conducted at the hospital.

“We hope these new MIS suites will attract additional specialized surgeons to add capacity for more surgical procedures right here in our local hospital,” Amerongen says. “I'd like to offer a deep thank you to the visionary Gratitude Campaign leaders and major donors for funding this extraordinary project.”

The first two MIS suites opened this past July. About 500 minimally invasive were performed in the two suites in the first three months.

“These new surgical suites offer an array of unique features, including more floor space for staff and equipment to move around, brighter lighting, state-of-the-art surgical equipment, and all of the equipment you need in one room,” says Dr. Fauzia Haq Nawaz, an AHS obstetrician and gynecologist, who performed the first procedure in the new suites.

“These features offer a more welcoming and comfortable surgical environment for patients, enhance surgical efficiencies and workflows for our staff, and ultimately improve patient care and outcomes,” adds Dr. Haq Nawaz, who is also medical director for the hospital and the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre.

Work to complete the final two MIS suite upgrades and two OR renovations will be phased in over the coming months to preserve the centre’s ability to provide timely surgeries during construction. The target completion date is March 2023.

“These new surgical suites will improve surgical completion times and patient flow through the OR, which means patients may spend less time under anesthesia and less time recovering in the hospital,” says Breanne Kinney, the hospital’s director of patient care.

“There’s a lot we can do to improve patient experiences with these minimally invasive surgical suites. With access to more innovative surgical technology and equipment, our surgeons can perform more complex surgeries with even more precision, efficiency and accuracy.”

The MIS suites are equipped with cutting-edge technology and equipment, including Ultra HD 4K scopes, cameras and screens. Each suite is also outfitted with surgical equipment mounted on moveable ceiling booms. This set-up makes it easier to move around the room and saves the time it previously took to move surgical equipment room to room for specific cases.

“To have these suites open and to have enhanced surgical capabilities and technology, it is a huge game-changer for us,” says Kimberly Russell, an assistant head nurse in the hospital’s ORs.

Hospital surgical staff were consulted throughout the project’s planning and design phase. Construction on the two suites began in September 2021. OR staff began training on MIS suite equipment and technology in November 2021.

“This project wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of many community donors,” says Kinney. “We thank these donors, as well as the Northern Lights Health Foundation, for their continued support of healthcare improvements in the Wood Buffalo region.”

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.