Three rooms in Whangarei hospital’s emergency department have had to be closed due to a leaky ceiling caused by the storm.
Three rooms in Whangārei Hospital’s emergency department that had to be closed after the ceiling started leaking during the cyclone “underscore how urgently Northland needs a new hospital”.
The rooms in Northland’s largest hospital were closed when rainwater began seeping through the ceiling on Sunday night, which prompted a manager to warn staff of the “unstable and leaking” ED.
“As you have noticed, our ceiling in the ED has been unstable and leaking since last night,” he said.
“Room 17 has been closed, and the light switch for Room 16 has been taped with signs [saying] not to operate it until further notice due to rainwater coming through the ceiling and the potential for electrical malfunction.”
The manager also mentions the risk of staff and patients “slipping and falling” from water on the floor.
Whangārei emergency medicine consultant Dr Gary Payinda said there have been problems with leaky roofs in the ED and hospital in general “for over a decade”.
“We’ve needed a new hospital for a long time, for about 20 years.
“This is another indication why your public hospitals shouldn’t get to 60 years old before you replace or refurbish them.
“It underscores how urgently Northland needs a new hospital.”
Te Whatu Ora Te Tai Tokerau spokeswoman Tracey Schiebli said the emergency department remains “open and operational” despite three rooms in the ED that are currently out of use.
“As a result of the current adverse weather, there have been leaks in the ceiling.
“We have secured the affected area and continue to monitor the space.
“This is not having a significant impact on services at this stage.
“Once the rain has eased, we will be looking at a permanent solution to the ceiling issue.”
Schiebli said the hospital was currently in an “emergency response” due to the adverse weather.
She acknowledged Northland was experiencing “an unprecedented weather event”.
“It remains very important that everyone goes to the emergency department only for emergencies, especially at a time like this.”
Questions were raised in 2021 over whether the hospital could cope with the onslaught of Covid-19, following numerous incidents of faulty lifts and leaky roofs.
The hospital, which services more than 190,000 people, doesn’t meet building standards or requirements for clinical best practice.
Back then, Payinda said that when it rains heavily, he and his colleagues in the radiology department use buckets to stop leaking water from damaging expensive equipment.
Now, he said he felt sorry for Te Whatu Ora and the previous district health board because it was “a hard problem to manage”.
“I understand it’s been really hard for them to repair.
“I’ve talked to workmen who would have replaced it – they said it’s cost-prohibitive because there is so much heating and ventilation equipment in the rooftops of the building, and you would have to decommission all that.
“Our hospital is over 60 years old, so it’s a patchwork building.
“For years, we’ve been in a ‘make do’ situation.”
However, a new hospital is coming following an announcement last November from then-health minister Andrew Little.
At the time, Little acknowledged that “Whangārei Hospital was built in the 1950s and is well past its use-by date”.
The redevelopment plans include an acute services building to house a new emergency department with three times more space, a coronary care unit and 10 operating theatres, as well as modernised intensive care facilities.
However, construction of the first stage of the project doesn’t start for another three years and isn’t expected to be finished until 2031.
Northland-based List MP and National Party health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said the Whangārei ED is “already under pressure from the shortage of [staff in the] health workforce, and this will add an extra burden”.
“Wouldn’t it be good if the proposed hospital upgrade that Labour has cut corners on took this event into account and upgraded ED to compliance with the four-hour ED target the day it is opened?”
Schiebli thanked “everyone who has been involved in helping us to put plans in place to keep serving our community and to keep all our people safe”.