Risk management and the new Civic Hospital campus 

Architect’s concept of the proposed Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

By Barbara Popel

In the last Glebe Report, I wrote about nasty surprises Ottawa residents may get when the new Civic Hospital opens in 2028. Construction of the entire campus – parking garage, utilities building, hospital, Research Tower, multi-purpose towers A, B and C and the Heart Institute – will finish in 2048. It’s an enormous project.

Huge projects like this are supposed to manage risks throughout the project. I’m concerned because I’ve seen little evidence of risk management. Several senior members of the Ottawa Hospital’s (TOH’s) project team have even said that if there are problems after things are built, they’ll see if they can be fixed. This shocked me. Potential problems – or risks – are almost always easier and cheaper to deal with before they become actual problems.

Does a project manager address all risks? No, of course not. The project team identifies risks and categorizes them by their probability of occurring and their impact if they do occur (e.g., severe, moderate or low impact). They update the project’s risk register as the project progresses. The team usually focuses on high- and medium-impact risks, especially if they have a high or medium probability of occurring. The project team plans how to address this subset of the risks in one of three ways. The team can mitigate a risk – reduce its probability of occurring or reduce its impact, or both. Or they can transfer the risk to another organization outside the project. Or they can accept the risk and hope it doesn’t become a problem.

Here are four risks I’ve spotted which TOH’s project team don’t seem to be managing:

Cost overruns

All large projects have the risk of construction cost overruns. Hospital projects usually quote the total cost and the cost per bed. Oakville’s Trafalgar Hospital, which opened in 2015 with 340 beds, cost $2.7 billion or $7.9 million per bed. The estimate for the new Civic, with 640 beds, is $2.8 billion or $4.4 million per bed. That “per-bed” cost is only 56 per cent of Trafalgar’s cost, which doesn’t seem credible. So the probability of a large cost overrun seems to be very high. The impact of this overrun on the two government funders – the province and the city – may be moderate. But the sooner this risk is mitigated by preparing a credible estimate, the easier it will be for Ontario and the City of Ottawa to plan their budgets to include their shares of the overrun.

To date, neither City Council nor FEDCO, the city’s financial committee, have examined how much Ottawa will contribute to the hospital’s building costs.

Parking shortage

There’s a high probability that car arrivals at the campus in 2028 will far exceed the parking capacity (see last month’s Glebe Report). The impact of this parking shortage on staff, outpatients and visitors, as well as on nearby neighbourhoods, will be severe. There’s been no concerted effort to mitigate this risk with a Traffic Demand Management (TDM) project. Even if a TDM project was underway, its probability of complete success would be low. Some citizens have suggested TOH use offsite parking facilities – maybe even at the existing Civic campus – with shuttle buses servicing the new campus. TOH has refused to consider this. Others have suggested moving the four towers off the campus; this seems to be unacceptable. My best guess is that mitigation will eventually include TOH asking the NCC for more acreage in the Experimental Farm – probably in the Arboretum and along Maple Drive and even in Commissioner’s Park – for another parking garage and more surface parking lots. But since there’s no publicly available risk mitigation plan, this is just speculation.

Other risks involve the helipad on the hospital’s roof for medevac ambulance helicopters. A recent interview of Terry Chilibeck, a retired helicopter pilot and former helipad inspector with the Ministry of Transportation, on Apple podcast The Fulcrum Radio Show, episode 14, highlighted a number of safety risks. I’ll mention two.

Helicopter safety and birds

One risk for medevac helicopters is birds! If you’ve been near Dow’s Lake in the spring or fall, you’ve probably noticed large flocks of Canada geese. Year round, there are also ducks, crows and songbirds around the lake, in Dow’s Little Swamp and in the Arboretum. Birds pose a danger to helicopters. I don’t know what the probability of serious accidents is – does TOH project team know? Can this risk be mitigated?

Helicopter safety and wind

Another risk is potential wind gusts and wind tunnel effects from the three new condo towers on Carling opposite the campus – their heights will be 178, 140 and 60 metres – plus the 45-storey condo at Preston and Carling. They will be facing the Research Tower and towers A, B and C. When Windsor was choosing its hospital site, one criterion was no adjacent buildings taller than 30 metres within half a kilometre. Chilibeck said he’s unaware of TOH’s project team having conducted wind tunnel experiments to evaluate this risk and how severely it will affect helicopter safety.

Maybe TOH’s project team has a risk management plan. If they do, then the public, the NCC, the Ontario government and the City of Ottawa should be allowed to see it.

Barbara Popel is secretary of the Dow’s Lake Residents Association and a member of its Special Committee on the New Civic Hospital. She is a former project manager and auditor of large projects.

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