Water that "looks like diarrhea" has been flooding out of drains in the birthing centre at a new, CAN$1.3bn "super hospital" in Montreal, sparking grave concerns over safety and bringing yet more negative headlines for Canadian engineering and construction giant, SNC-Lavalin.
Drains are reported to have backed up in the birthing centre in the early hours of Friday, 28 August, flooding the clinical area and forcing staff to throw quilted bed coverings on the floors to soak up the stinking water.
Employees at the Montreal Children’s Hospital – part of the huge new McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) – confirmed the distressing drain malfunction to newspaper, The Montreal Gazette.
(We) repeatedly notified (the private contractor) about the issues with drains at the Glen site. The technical services team is actively following up and collaborating with (the contractor) to ensure a solution is found– McGill University Health Centre
One source said it happened regularly.
"The flooding happens five to 10 times a week in the birthing centre. I’m sorry to describe it this way, but sometimes it looks like diarrhea coming out of the drains," the source told the Gazette.
Fearing reprisals, the sources spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
News of the drainage back-up at the birthing centre followed reports earlier last week that black sewer water with a stench "worse than rotting fish" was flooding through drains into patient rooms, staff bathrooms and even in the intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, which opened its doors in May this year.
The reports will raise extra difficulties for SNC-Lavalin, whose 2010 contract to build the MUHC under a public-private partnership (PPP) is the focus of a sensational bribery scandal.
Three former SNC-Lavalin executives, including the firm’s ex-chief executive Pierre Duhaime, are facing charges in Canada in connection with alleged bribes worth CAN$22.5m, which police believe were received by the director of MUHC at the time, Arthur Porter, who died in a Panama prison on 30 June.
Police allege Porter took the bribes in return for awarding SNC-Lavalin the contract.
Under the PPP contract, SNC-Lavalin and its partner in the scheme, Innisfree Ltd., are responsible for operating and maintaining the huge facility, which contains the children’s hospital and other clinical and training centres, until 2044.
The sewage problem will increase tension between MUHC and SNC-Lavalin. PPPs are supposed to transfer the risk of cost over-runs to the contract holder, but SNC-Lavalin is seeking more than CAN$172m it says it incurred in extra construction costs.
In an initial response to the Gazette last week, SNC-Lavalin blamed the drain problems at one specific site, a women’s locker room, on hospital patients and staff misusing the toilet by attempting to flush large waste items such as rubber gloves, rope and string.
SNC-Lavalin also maintained that the pipes at MUHC are in compliance with local codes.
But the firm also acknowledged that an operating room in the floor below the birthing centre may have to be closed temporarily in order to investigate the problem.
According to the Gazette, the MUHC issued a brief statement on Friday, saying it "has repeatedly notified (the private contractor) about the issues with drains at the Glen site. The technical services team is actively following up and collaborating with (the contractor) to ensure a solution is found."