One of the patient care rooms at the new intensive care unit at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, N.B. (Ian Curran/AQ)

New Brunswick health officials hope a new intensive care unit at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital will act as a modern workplace that improves treatment access and reduces patient wait times.

Health Minister Bruce Fitch participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, joined by Horizon Health Network Trustee Dr. Suzanne Johnston, Interim President and CEO Dr. Margaret Melanson and Chalmers ICU physician Dr. Zeeshan Aslam.

Fitch said the new ICU, valued at $21.75 million, is expected to be operational by Feb. 14. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” he told reporters.

“One of the pillars in our health care plan was access to surgery and certainly creating that integrated health care system and this is what is coming to reality here today.”

The investment is making good on a commitment by the provincial government to spend $176 million in capital health care infrastructure in the 2023-24 fiscal year, with $95 million earmarked for renovations, additions and other improvements across New Brunswick.

Fitch said the renovations make way for 20 new staffing positions and an increase in the number of private patient care rooms from eight to 12. However, due to current staffing levels, the ICU will open up the first seven beds before increasing to eight by March.

He also said the facility would contribute to an overall modern workplace, which he hopes can pay off in the hiring and retention of health care professionals.

New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch speaks to reporters at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, N.B. on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (Ian Curran/AQ)

“We’re all working hard to have a good workplace and help [retain] the employees that are here and attract new ones to provide the service that’s needed and wanted by the people in the province,” said Fitch.

Melanson said the renovations make up one part of a $250 million project at the hospital that includes modernizing its maternal and newborn care and surgical care departments by March 2024.

There would also be further renovation projects for ambulatory procedures, phlebotomy and health record services that she expects to see completed by 2028.

“This is an exciting time for all of our health professionals in the Fredericton area,” said Melanson. “This new space is impressive and it will greatly improve the care experience of our patients, families, staff and physicians.”

According to Fitch, health officials have developed a group focused on recruitment that will work with Horizon and the Vitalité Health Network to staff new units and increase staffing numbers.

He said plans include looking for staff from other provinces like Alberta, Quebec and Ontario, and expediting the process for internationally-trained doctors and nurses to become licensed to work in New Brunswick.

“That’s going to alleviate some of the HR constraints that we see, so having a good facility like this, I think, will help attract people into the area and also retain people that are working here,” said Fitch.

Melanson said along with the hospital’s current ICU staff, Horizon would offer recruitment opportunities for other existing staff in the Fredericton area, such as nurses, who may be interested in coming to work at the Chalmers.

“Recruitment is always an ongoing, high priority for us, however, we’re very comfortable that we will have the staff that we need, at least, to begin to use this ICU and then move to the full 12 beds of use as quickly as possible,” she said.

Dr. Suzanne Johnston, Dr. Margaret Melanson, Jeff Carr, Bruce Fitch and Dr. Zeeshan Aslam participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, N.B. on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (Submitted: Government of New Brunswick)

Aslam, who also acts as Horizon’s department head of intensive care for the Fredericton area, said the ICU project officially brings the Chalmers to a modern level of being a state-of-the-art facility, primarily focused on patient care and patient family care.

One of the additions includes the ability to perform continuous renal replacement therapy, a form of kidney dialysis that couldn’t be done in the old space due to its smaller size.

“We will provide the best environment for the families to be with their loved one when they are the sickest and most vulnerable,” he said.

“This new unit will help us to give our patients even better care and a better work environment that will help us in retention of these excellent staff that take care of the sickest patients.”

With files from Ian Curran.