First Intensive Care Unit at Royal Columbian Hospital

A brand new concept in medical treatment began at RCH in February of 1965 – intensive care. It’s hard to think of a hospital without an ICU today, but it was a very innovative concept in the mid-sixties. The 5-bed ward, staffed by 2 nurses, with a central ‘command’ post and specialized equipment, was full even before its official opening.

The following article and photograph appeared in The Columbian February 3, 1965.

‘Command Post’ in Hospital Seen as New Life-Saver
by Sydney Orpwood, Columbian Staff Reporter

The critically ill at Royal Columbian hospital are now being speeded on their way to recovery by a new program of intensive nursing. It started this week when a five-bed ward, renovated and equipped for special care, was put into use.

Lives of many patients, which would have been lost a decade ago, can now be saved through the use of special facilities and skills assembled in the new ward. And others who would formerly spend long weary weeks recovering from illness or injury can now be returned to their homes and families much sooner.

The new ward was created through the determination and ingenuity of the medical, nursing and administrative staff at Royal Columbian. “It’s not perfect,” they are quick to say. But each gives the others credit for finding space for the new unit in the crowded conditions at the hospital; for solving the difficult engineering problems in the physical renovations; for visualizing the need and scope of the specialized care, and for providing the human skill and compassion which make it work.

Physically, they started with a six-bed ward in the 1950 wing of the hospital, and re-planned the floor space for five beds. New oxygen and vacuum pipes were snaked through the walls of the building, with outlets at the head of each bed space. A dozen new electrical plug-ins were installed. Garment closets were ripped out, and storage cupboards took their place, to hold a handy supply of all the articles normally needed in a sick room. A command post was added, with desks, telephone, chart space, and one important extra item – an alarm button to summon aid in an emergency.

Visitors from other hospitals and a reporter-photographer team from The Columbian were ushered for a preview of the new ward Tuesday, and found it already in full use. All beds were occupied, and two patients had already made rapid recovery from an illness and an operation through the intense care, and were ready to be moved to standard wards.

Special equipment covered much of the floor space, between the beds and under them. An apparatus manufacturer was demonstrating a continuous cardiac monitor, which the hospital will buy within a week or two.

Getting intense nursing care in a new ward at Royal Columbian hospital is Ian MacFarlene, recovering well from a heart operation. Nurse Beverley Botter is one of six who rotate, two at a time, in the five-bed ward. Equipment is concentrated here, and more is being ordered.
From The Columbian Feb 3, 1965

Recent publicity over intense care wards in U.S. hospitals describes a central monitoring device which can be switched by the nurse from one patient to another. “We don’t care for this type,” a Royal Columbian staffer said. “We prefer individual units. This is the concept we have of intense care – that each patient should be watched every minute of the day and night. We intend, as the need grows, and the money is available, to have more than one individual monitor.”

The ward is staffed by two graduate nurses at all times. Supplies are at hand; they are in communication with the central chart room by telephone; they have their own washroom. Everything has been arranged so there is no need for them to leave their patients at any time. Nurses who will staff the ward volunteered for the work, and were given courses on the special care and the new equipment they will use. Others will be trained, so their duty may rotate.

Doctors who planned four years to see the ward come into existence praise them. “The dedication and skill of these girls is outstanding,” one said Tuesday. “They are the principal reason we are able to take better care of our patients – save more lives, and send them home sooner.”

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