This Calgary Cancer Centre Created a Safer Way to Move High-Risk Medications

The new Arthur J.E. Child Comprehensive Cancer Centre uses a dumbwaiter system to help transport medications.

Illustration by Gust of Wind Studio.

When people hear the term “dumbwaiter,” they’re likely to think of food being transported from one floor to another in a restaurant or historic mansion. The small elevators were invented to save servers time while preventing the likelihood of spillage when carrying hot food from point A to point B.

If a dumbwaiter works so well for transporting platters of roast chicken, it follows that this simple technology should also work in other applications, such as in a large hospital where nurses and pharmacists need to move significant quantities of medication from one floor to another.

That’s precisely the idea behind the dumbwaiter system at the new Arthur J.E. Child Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Measuring 1.4 million square feet, with patient care spread out over 11 floors, the new facility’s expanded scope was set to make transporting chemotherapy drugs from the onsite pharmacies to patients a longer and more extensive operation. Even though accidents and drug spillage is rare in a hospital setting, rather than asking staff to carry highly toxic medications through public hallways and up and down shared elevators multiple times a day, Carole Chambers, AHS Pharmacy’s director of Cancer Services, requested some kind of lift to ensure both efficiency and safety. The building designers competing for the project suggested a dumbwaiter in response to her request.

“As a cancer hospital, we have a much higher volume of hazardous drugs than a standard multidisciplined, multi-site tertiary hospital like the Foothills,” says Chambers. “That’s why we wanted to be creative in looking at a dedicated dumbwaiter system.”

For optimum efficiency, the Cancer Centre ultimately ended up with two dumbwaiters: one services the inpatient floors of the hospital, while the other services the ambulatory or day-patient treatment rooms. The dumbwaiters are electronically operated stainless steel lifts that run directly from the hospital pharmacies where the drugs are kept to medication rooms on those multiple inpatient and ambulatory floors. Only trained staff have access to the lifts, which are used exclusively for transporting chemotherapy drugs.

Even though patients will never see these dumbwaiters in action, the lifts allow the hospital to run more smoothly while making life easier and potentially safer for nurses, doctors and pharmacists, so they can focus on patients, and the patients can focus on themselves. “They’re there to get the best care on the very challenging journey they’re on,” Chambers says.

Considering the benefits and safety measures the dumbwaiter systems are contributing here, one might argue that the name is due for an update that better reflects their ingenuity.

Learn more about the people and organizations moving Calgary forward with Avenue's Innovation Newsletter.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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