Upgraded suites boost surgical care

October 12, 2022

Surgical team staff at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and representatives of the Northern Lights Health Foundation showcase one of four new Minimally Invasive Surgical Suites at the hospital.

Surgical team staff at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and representatives of the Northern Lights Health Foundation showcase one of four new Minimally Invasive Surgical Suites at the hospital. Photo Supplied.

New minimally invasive suites taking shape along with renovations at Northern Lights

Story by Logan Clow

FORT McMURRAY — Surgical capabilities and patient care have improved thanks to upgrades and renovations to six operating rooms (ORs) at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

The $6.3-million project includes upgrading four ORs to Minimally Invasive Surgical Suites (MIS Suites) for minimally invasive general surgery, gynecologic surgery, and orthopedic and spinal surgery. Two additional ORs will receive renovations and upgrades, including new surgical lights.

“The creation of new laparoscopic surgical suites, and renovations to the other operating theatres, are made possible through donations made to the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign,” says Cindy Amerongen, executive director, Northern Lights Health Foundation.

“This project will fundamentally change how internal surgery is conducted. We hope these new MIS Suites will attract additional specialized surgeons to add capacity for more surgical procedures right here in our local hospital. I'd like to offer a deep thank-you to the visionary Gratitude Campaign leaders and major donors for funding this extraordinary project.”

The Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign ran from 2016-2019 across the Wood Buffalo region and raised $16 million for community healthcare improvements from more than 1,000 donors.

On July 18, the first two MIS Suites opened at the NLRHC. The first surgery, a gynecologic laparoscopic procedure, was performed July 19 by Dr. Fauzia Haq Nawaz, an AHS obstetrician and gynecologist.

“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. Haq Nawaz, who’s also the facility medical director for the NLRHC and Willow Square Continuing Care Centre.

“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.”

Construction on the two suites began in September 2021. OR staff began their training on MIS Suite equipment and technology in November 2021.

“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,” says Breanne Kinney, director of Patient Care, NLRHC.

“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.”

Kinney adds the MIS Suites are equipped with cutting-edge technology and equipment, including Ultra HD 4K scopes, cameras, and screens.

“The 4K picture and video quality is a huge asset and something our teams really enjoy,” says Kinney. “Our surgeons and OR staff have the ability to see the patient’s anatomy and blood vessels more clearly. This ensures our surgeons are more confident in the precision of their cuts and surgical moves than before.”

Each suite is 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.

“Our staff are able to move freely around the rooms. Staff are not spending time pushing heavy equipment, plugging equipment in, or turning things on,” says Kinney.

“A lot of the equipment is touch-screen and easy to move and navigate around as needed. Patients will certainly recognize a more updated, and technologically advanced OR, when they come in.”

Kinney adds that OR surgical staff — who were consulted throughout the project’s planning and design phase — were “ecstatic” when the first two suites opened in July.

“I’m really happy about it and I think most of our OR staff are really excited to see these new MIS Suites open,” says Kimberly Russell, assistant head nurse, NLRHC OR. “These suites were a huge need here in Fort McMurray and it’s a significant upgrade.

“We do a lot of minimally invasive surgeries here, so to have these suites open and to have enhanced surgical capabilities and technology, it definitely feels like a huge game-changer for us. These new suites will certainly improve our processes and workflows, as well as surgical completion times and patient flow through the OR.”

The 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 next March.

“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.”