Royal Columbian Hospital turns 150

Cheryl Rohachuk (nee Harrop), manager of health services at Royal Columbian Hospital, graduated from RCH
Cheryl Rohachuk (nee Harrop), manager of health services at Royal Columbian Hospital, graduated from RCH's school of nursing in 1978, the last class from the school. Rohahuck has worked at the hospital, which celebrates its 150th anniversary on Sunday for nearly 35 years.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Royal Columbian Hospital celebrates 150 years on Sunday, and Cheryl Rohachuk—and many of her family members—have had a close tie to the facility for the last 40 of those years.

In the early 1970s, Rohachuk’s father George Harrop had a fair bit of heart trouble.

Not serious enough for surgery, but enough to require frequent visits to Royal Columbian.

She remembers often being there in the room as a nurse encouraged her father to change his lifestyle choices, but Rohachuk says for him it was too late.

But an incident during that time had a profound impact on her. She recalls witnessing another patient have a coronary attack.

“The team came crashing in the room. When I saw the [cardiac care nurse] teaching my father and then the next minute transitioning into an emergency room situation there was a whole new set of actions taking place. It was fascinating to me and it clicked into me about wanting to be part of a team like that.”

So when she graduated from Burnaby South in 1973 she had “a very clear decision about my path.”

Rohachuk asked one of the nurses how she could get her foot in the door, and she suggested working in the hospital kitchen. Her assignment was to deliver evening nourishment to the patients. That led to her entering  Royal Columbian’s three-year nursing program, moving into the nurse’s residence in what is now the Sherbrooke Building that houses administrative offices.

Little did she know when she signed up she was going to be part of the school’s final graduating class in 1978, with the province transferring the training to post-secondary institutions.

She was sad to see the change because having the nursing school connected to the hospital meant they received a lot more clinical training.

“It was a feeling we didn’t know what nursing was transitioning to. We didn’t know any other models, or how they would work,” says Rohachuk.

Her first posting was in orthopedics and her second in the coronary care unit where her father was.

The family connection to RCH even grew from there. Her twin sister, Shirley Harrop, went to work at Royal Columbian as a clerk and was there for 33 years before recently being transferred when Fraser Health amalgamated its finance departments with Coastal Health.

Rohachuk’s father died in 1977 and didn’t get to see Rohachuk graduate or get married. Following his death, her mother, Laura Auld, worked as a housekeeper at RCH for 12 years retiring in 1991.

And the connection now spans three generations. Rohachuk’s daughter, Krista Smith, graduated in nursing from Kwantlen College in 2011 and works just down the hall from Rohachuk in the same cardiac ward she did.

“That’s really cool because she has chosen the very area I was in,” says Rohachuk, who is now a manager of health services at Royal Columbian. “She also saw there was so much to offer patients with teaching. The type of nursing it is, she loved it and it intrigued her. You really work with a team there.”

In her nearly 35 years there, Rohachuk has seen many changes as Royal Columbian has grown to not only serve New Westminster and the immediate area, but also be the hospital Fraser Health sends its most seriously ill and injured patients to.

“The capacity was less when I started,” says Rohachuk. “Today, the word congestion is used over and over again, there are not enough beds. In those days this was not the case, probably because we didn’t have the same number of services. Everything was on a smaller scale.”

Being part of raising the bar at Royal Columbian with so many specialties and expertise has been exciting for Rohachuk.

“We had such good personnel that wanted to optimize their education and skills and adapt to a higher level role. There are a lot of self-starters that wanted to get programs going,” says Rohachuk. “We believe we do really good work with limited resources because we are a can-do place.”

In June, then health minister Mike de Jong announced approval for plans to do a redevelopment of RCH, expected to cost about $750 million. That has the staff encouraged and optimistic for the hospital’s future.

Even though she’s had offers from all over the place, Rohachuk has never contemplated leaving Royal Columbian.

“It’s small enough to know everybody, but big enough [to be medically challenging],” says Rohachuk. “It’s what I wanted to do. No one twisted my arm. The camaraderie here is great. There was no reason to move anywhere else.”

Rohachuk’s daughter Krista is scheduled to give birth to a son in December. The granny-to-be smiles slyly at the possibility of a fourth generation of her family eventually joining the RCH family as it heads toward its 200th anniversary.


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