One operation in Eindhoven’s Catharina Hospital has taken seven years so far. The ‘surgical’ team: Heijmans. The team is engaged in demolition, revitalization and construction. Is the hospital’s condition improving as a result? Absolutely, as shown by a visit to Pulmonary Medicine, a department that exudes a contemporary feel.
They’re handy, those 130 signposted routes in Catharina Hospital. It’s big after all. Anyone following route 34 will find themselves in the waiting room of the Pulmonary Medicine outpatient clinic. Ample space, a fresh design, coffee that will delight the taste buds. A man reads a copy of the Nieuwe Revu and sighs. A women is doing a crossword. Betterment, eleven letters.
‘Improvement’, lung specialist Pascal Wielders would doubtless enter. Since 2000 he has been working in the hospital complex, which was built in 1973. He is pleased with the major renovation. ‘There’s been an improvement in terms of space, light and air. Which befits an ambitious hospital’, he says in his consultation room. ‘There was a patient here last week who said: “Wow, I don’t recognize the place any more! Fantastic foyer, a welcoming atmosphere.’
To be perfectly honest, Wielders held his breath when the plans were laid out on the table at the time. ‘I was critical initially. You can only spend the money once. But the old outpatient clinic was too small. The current rooms are nicer and more accessible.’
Thank you card
He sees around 20-25 patients a day. Several times a week he has to give people some extremely bad news. There’s a thank you card on his desk from a woman who is now a widow. Standing on the windowsill is a statuette of a doctor-in-bronze, a present from an artist in the final year of his life. Breaking bad news will always be tough, says Wielders. ‘You had little corridors in the old outpatient clinic areas. They offered a degree of shelter. Nice for doctor and patient. Now your consultation room opens straight out onto the large waiting room. Obviously that’s something we’d still like to change.’
He’s happy about the climate control, which is not unimportant for lung patients. The air is pleasant. The doctors and their staff can also set the temperature within certain ranges. Another bonus is the floors. We had carpet in the old outpatient clinic. That was a funfair for dust mites, but no fun for lung patients with an allergy. But did the long-term renovation work impede Wielders in the course of his duties? Sometimes, particularly the noise nuisance. ‘There were, of course, set times for drilling work, but now and then it was necessary to make a phone call. That helped’, he says in a subdued tone.
‘Don’t hold your breath’ would be an understandable gaffe in Catharina Hospital. Heijmans has been making solid progress here for seven years now. Checked off on the project list: the operating theatres, outpatient clinics, intensive care, the emergency station and the so-called bedding facility.
One of the renovated departments is 4-West, or Pulmonary Medicine. The Consumer Quality Index, which reflects what patients think of the healthcare, rose from 7.2 to 8.5. ‘We’ve made considerable progress’, confirms nurse Carla Hermans. ‘The old department on the thirteenth floor still had six-bed wards. With a communal television, bathroom and toilet. Now we’ve got no more than four people in a light ward. Each with their own television, modern sanitary facilities and sufficient workspace around the beds.’
Even the indoor climate has improved, Carla states with certainty. ‘On the thirteenth floor, the air conditioning units were by the window. Patients who found that too cold put towels over them. But in the summer it could get swelteringly hot. Then the curtains in the wards had to be shut early.’ Does she miss anything about the old department? ‘The view. During the evenings in July you could see the glow of the fair in Tilburg against the sky.’
Another person who can remember the panoramas from the thirteenth floor is Piet Vennix  from Oirschot. ‘I spent New Year’s Eve there six times. No fun, but some great firework displays.’ He tells his story in room 4-09. He was a roadworker for 40 years, specializing in ornamental work. But things went downhill after he hit 52. His back, his knees? No, nods Mr Vennix: first kidney cancer, then pancreatic cancer and for years now COPD. He struggles with chronic inflammation in his lungs, particularly in the winter.
Catharina Hospital has now become his second home. From the bottom of his heart, which is still going strong, he says: ‘I’m really happy that they’ve had the renovation work done here. It’s fresher, cleaner. Steam from the showers often used to linger in the old bathrooms. Bad for my lungs. That’s a thing of the past now’.
Carla Hermans plumps up his pillows. Just a little while longer, and then Mr Vennix will be heading home. He wants to go on holiday one more time with his wife, who has leukaemia. Preferably to Sauerland. But Limburg would be fine too. As long as the air is clean.
From clean air to cleaning. Three floors down Karl van Hoof is working his way across the new connecting bridge between the new Cardiovascular Centre and the existing bedding facility. Using his Wetrok scrubber-drier he cleans all the hospital’s floors and corridors at least once a day, paying extra attention to Intensive Care and Accident & Emergency.
On his rounds, which run for miles, he regularly encounters the renovation or new-build work. ‘I get along well with the Heijmans team. Like an old boys’ network. They keep the place dust-free. We also supply Heijmans with clean, dry walking mats. Sometimes I give them a helping hand – with this machine you’ll get a bit of floor clean in a trice. There’s no hanging about with this thing.’
Karl climbs onto his mechanical cart and drives off – another 45 miles to go. In the other direction comes a man in a hospital bed, two nurses pushing him across the connecting bridge towards the Cardiac Care ward. As he passes, he gives us the thumbs up.