Plan Group

Thirty-six years ago, the first construction project Dave Lonsdale was a part of was a hospital. Back then, simply having a computer system was considered cutting-edge. But today’s technological advancements require increasingly complex systems capable of talking to each other as hospitals push for better integration aimed at improving patient care. Lonsdale, a project manager for Plan Group, a multi-trade contractor, helped create the next evolution in integration with Toronto’s Humber River Hospital, North America’s first fully digital hospital.

With close ties to the Toronto market and extensive experience on large projects, Plan Group was a clear choice for PCL Constructors Canada Inc. to partner with when selecting an electrical subcontractor to develop and install and integrate many of the building systems that make up the backbone of the new hospital. The company was founded in 1955 as an electrical contractor and over the course of 60 years grew its services to include fire security, communications, building management systems and mechanical systems. Plan Group can now design and implement a full suite of systems essential to any project from structured cabling to industrial controls.

The company’s reputation for speed and quality has allowed it to work across Canada and branch into the United States and the Caribbean. “We strive to get the jobs done on time and on budget,” Lonsdale says. “We want to get the product to the owner as quick as we can.” Plan Group’s extensive list of projects includes the infrastructure for three facilities for the Pan American Games, held in Toronto in 2015, and Toronto Pearson International Airport. In recent years, the company has also been a key contractor for several data center projects for various banks and government entities. 

Electrical and other building systems have always been a core part of Plan Group’s business, but in the past five years the drive to integrate those systems to make them work together has taken off, Lonsdale says. Humber River Hospital is a culmination of many of those advancements. From the onset, Humber River Hospital was designed with system integration in mind.

Plan Group was part of a larger Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) consortia, led by Plenary Health that was awarded the contract to build the facility in 2011. The healthcare industry is increasingly moving toward the AFP model for public and infrastructure projects because it transfers most of the risk to the private sector and encourages builders to complete their work within scope and on budget.

“The thought is that this method provides a more cost-effective solution for the end-user, which is the government in this case,” Lonsdale explains. 

AFP results in a more unified approach and closer collaboration since it forces the major players to coordinate design, development, construction and operations/maintenance before the bidding process is even complete. “You start to appreciate what they do more and they appreciate our restraints and what we do,” Lonsdale says of Plan Group’s partners on the Humber River Hospital, including Plenary Health, design builder PCL Constructors Canada Inc. and facilities manager Johnson Controls. “The process is enjoyable because you understand more of the whole design process, but it is more work.”

The hospital was a $1.75 billion project to create a modern facility capable of providing the best and most efficient care for the 850,000 people living in northwest Toronto. Excavation started on Jan. 6, 2012, was substantially completed in May of this year and successfully opened its doors on October 18. The 1.8-million-square-foot building offers both inpatient and ambulatory services and targets a LEED Silver rating. The construction of the new Humber River Hospital will ultimately see the consolidation of the hospital’s three legacy sites into the new hospital with the Finch site converting to an ambulatory and urgent care center.

Implementing Integration

Plan Group’s role in the project was to design, install and integrate the electrical distribution, power, lighting, fire alarm, closed circuit TV and communications systems. Due to Plan Group’s guidance and problem-solving experience, the facility features a number of innovative or refined technologies for system integration. In a traditional communications system, a patient calling for a nurse would ring the nursing desk and the desk would then find and notify the nurse. But at Humber, patients can send an alert to both the central desk and the nurse directly on her mobile device, eliminating steps and improving response times. Nurses and physicians may also use mobile devices to video-conference with patients, allowing care providers to remain in touch even when they are elsewhere in the building.

The drive to improve communication extends to everyone’s physical presence. Plan group implemented a real-time locating system (RTLS) to locate people who have pressed the panic button on their ID badge or in urgent cases, to find physicians. The system can also track supplies and directs staff to available wheelchairs or gurneys, reducing response time, which can be critical during an emergency.

Monitors outside each patient room display the status of the room, including required infection control precautions and allergy alerts – all drawn directly from the patient’s electronic medical record. When a nurse or doctor visits a patient, a dome light over the door activates notifying other staff or visitors to give the patient privacy.

One of the most futuristic innovations in Humber River Hospital are the automatic guided vehicles, a kind of robot that runs throughout the building delivering supplies such as food and medicine where it is needed. Lonsdale says Humber is one of the first hospitals in the world to implement such a system. “It’s making the hospital and its staff more efficient, getting supplies quicker, reducing strain on personnel and costs,” he says.

Creating Compatibility

The individual systems used in Humber River Hospital are, for the most part, not new in and of themselves, but developing the way those systems work with each other took a higher level of coordination and strong partnerships. “It’s the interactions of the systems that is so exciting,” Lonsdale explains. The access granted to Plan Group as part of the AFP allowed the contractor early on to design the facility’s systems and engage with system providers to solve compatibility challenges.

No single company offered a total solution that allowed every system to work in perfect tandem, so Plan Group had to create those connections itself. “It was three-and-a-half years of meetings and drawings and meetings,” Lonsdale says. Plan Group and their partners had to identify and procure each system individually, then took the lead with providers to get those proprietary technologies to communicate. “It doesn’t happen if you just leave all these people on their own,” Lonsdale says of coordinating the process. In the end, Plan Group was able to deliver an integrated system that closely matched the original vision for Humber River Hospital.

 Working on an advanced project such as Humber River Hospital was not only a financial opportunity, but a learning experience. Plan Group can now apply what it learned about designing integrated system on future projects, Lonsdale says. Already, the company is working on two more hospital buildings in the greater Toronto area. “I think we have a hand up because we’ve completed this project,” Lonsdale adds. 

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