Lab specimens and blood of all kinds will soon be zipping around inside the walls of Royal Columbian Hospital.
The New Westminster health-care facility will spend $1 million over the next year upgrading its aging pneumatic tube system to improve efficiency and security.
Two separate delivery systems currently operate within the walls of the hospital.
A pneumatic tube network connects the lab, pharmacy, health records and inpatient areas, delivering some blood products, specimens, medications and paperwork to seven different stations.
The items are placed in a plastic container and propelled around the tubes by a partial vacuum.
“They get swooped up into a tunnel that’s within the walls,” RCH site operations manager Reema Prihar told the Record.
A separate electric track system delivers the same items within Columbia Tower using a small vehicle on tracks inside the walls.
Since the track system is slower and less secure, Prihar said the plan is to replace it with an expanded, higher-tech tube system with enhanced security features that would enable it to transport all blood products, specimens and paperwork.
The upgrade will free up porters and care-aides who currently carry certain blood products and specimens around the hospital.
Because of security concerns, however, the two existing delivery systems don’t transport narcotics and neither will the new tubes, leaving it up to pharmacy techs to stock narcotics directly into the hospital's automated dispensing cabinets.
But the new system will be a boon to patients waiting for test results or medications, according to Prihar.
“We know those minutes can feel like hours for a patient,” she said.
Work on the upgrade will start in early spring, according to Prihar, and is expected to take about a year.
The old tube network will be redesigned to include 31 instead of seven stations.
The new network will also be designed to connect to six planned stations in the hospital’s new 75-bed mental health substance use building by about 2018 and 35 stations planned for Phase 2 of RCH’s $260-million redevelopment by about 2022.
“We’re looking to the future and we want to tie into our new redevelopment as well,” Prihar said.
An earlier version of this story reported narcotics would be transported in Royal Columbian Hospital’s upgraded pneumatic tube system. Information originally provided by Fraser Health was incorrect, and the story has been changed to reflect new information.
“We would like to clarify some information we provided your publication regarding the pneumatic tube system upgrade at Royal Columbian Hospital,” wrote spokesperson Tasleem Juma in an email. “While the system is equipped with security features to safely transport narcotics across the hospital, we will not be using it for that purpose at this time. Pharmacy technicians will continue to be responsible for stocking narcotics directly in the automated dispensing cabinets to ensure security.”