Case Studies

Brent Snoddon – Southlake Regional Health Centre

Technology challenges = healthy career for hospital facilities leader

In terms of Southlake Regional Health Centre’s facilities, its switchboards may be its nerve center.

It’s not the type of switchboard seen in vintage movies where incoming phone calls are directed to someone by an operator plugging a wire into a circuit.

The two switchboards at Southlake distribute electricity received from two high voltage transformers at the hospital throughout the campus, providing electricity to operate lights, the HVAC system, diagnostic imaging equipment—even bedside night lights.

Brent Snoddon | Director of Facility Operations | Southlake Regional Health Centre

Brent Snoddon | Director of Facility Operations | Southlake Regional Health Centre

“Without switchboards, we could not function as an organization,” says Brent Snoddon, the director of facility operations for the health care campus located in Newmarket, Ontario, just north of Toronto.

Snoddon began work to replace the switchboards in 2019 and he and his team recently brought the first replacement online. They’ve begun replacing the other in a project he expects to complete in spring 2024.

“We’re talking about pretty elaborate electrical and technical systems here,” Snoddon says. “But this is also an opportunity to put a focus on energy management and sustainability and the reliability of our equipment.”

Power in planning

Southlake Regional Health Centre was founded in 1922 as York County Hospital and currently sits on a 19-acre campus with about 700,000 square feet of facilities. Those include a regional cardiac care center as well as a cancer treatment center. More than 116,000 patients visit the emergency department annually, making it one of the busiest ERs in Ontario.

The switchboards getting replaced were installed in 1973 and had an expected life cycle of 30 to 35 years, Snoddon says. Each replacement project costs more than $5 million, which is paid for by Ontario’s Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund.

The replacements also enable improvements in energy efficiency and workplace safety. For instance, the new switchboards allow Snoddon and his team to monitor the power flowing throughout the campus and help determine what equipment, such as the HVAC, may need maintenance and where energy savings can be achieved. The new switchboards are equipped with a programmable logic controller, or PLC, panels for remote switching, so no one has to don a protective arc flash suit to operate any breakers, he says.

Brent Snoddon | Director of Facility Operations | Southlake Regional Health Centre

However, the replacements required detailed planning for about four months as his team met with engineers, project managers and departments within Southlake. The switchboard replacement required 15 power shutdowns, which had implications to both the emergency and normal power systems; backup generators were used on multiple occasions.

Snoddon says Capital Development Director Nathan Robinson, Project Manager John Paul Guillem, Chief Engineer Robert Johnson, Supervisor Facility Operations Nino Tuzi and the facility operations team helped ensure the projects were and will be done with minimal disruptions to hospital operations.

“There were a lot of long nights here looking over electrical drawings, ensuring what we were doing would work without impacting our operations,” Snoddon says.

Adding efficiency

Snoddon is also working with Thermogenics, a boiler manufacturer, on upgrading Southlake’s four natural gas-powered boilers. In 2022, linkages and controls directing the steam used for heating and cooling the campus and sterilizing medical equipment were upgraded. Now, he wants to fine tune the boilers so they operate more efficiently. He says together they’re collecting data to find additional efficiencies, such as whether it’s advantageous to operate two boilers at 30 percent capacity rather than one operating at 60 percent capacity.

A recently completed audit by Enerlife Consulting Inc. on some air handling units will guide Snoddon and his team as they seek greater energy efficiency, too.

“Building system setpoints and adjustments can result in significant energy savings if done effectively, with the right precautions in place,” Snoddon says. “It’s important to show a return on investment for our energy focused projects, and we’re looking for projects that have a greater payback at the start.”

Brent Snoddon | Director of Facility Operations | Southlake Regional Health Centre

Future energy savings are important, but Snoddon says he’s also preparing his team for the possibility of working at a new site in a decade. The master planning process for Southlake’s future is in its beginning stages, and when the process reaches the design phase his experience and expertise will be relied upon.

“I can provide a day-to-day understanding about how challenging it can be to access or maintain a certain system and how we can help or correct that if we build a new hospital,” Snoddon says.

He’s enjoyed the opportunities working in health care facilities management has created for him, but as he builds and guides his team, he says it’s crucial to understand the importance of its responsibilities.

For instance, when a power switch failed recently and led to a backup generator operating when it wasn’t needed, the repair project lasted from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. the next morning.

“We need to be technical and creative,” Snoddon says. “We need to plan on coming in when we don’t expect to—this isn’t a 9-to-5 job.”

Hands on and always learning

Snoddon grew up north of Toronto on a beef farm in the Sutton, Ontario, area. The farm has been owned by his family since the 1890s and it’s still active, run by his father with help from Brent and his brothers. He earned his certification and licenses for electrical work as well as for gas and oil burner technician from George Brown College, Durham College and Fleming College.

Before joining Southlake, Snoddon worked for companies installing geothermal energy and hydronics systems (using water as the heat-transfer medium for HVAC systems) as well as doing residential, industrial and commercial electrical work.

Brent Snoddon | Director of Facility Operations | Southlake Regional Health Centre

Seeking new opportunities and a more stable workplace, Snoddon heeded advice from his sister-in-law and applied at Southlake for what was a one-year contracted electrician role. After a year, the hospital created a full-time permanent role for him as an HVAC technician and electrician in the maintenance department. In January 2018, he was named supervisor of facility operations, overseeing day-to-day work, including life safety, electrical and HVAC systems.

In October 2018, Snoddon was named facility operations and biomedical engineering manager, and then to his current position in December 2022.

Married with two children, he and his family enjoy the outdoors and working on the farm; he’s also an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan. And he’s never bored at work.

“A lot of things in here, if you’re coming from a mechanical background, are going to pique your interest,” Snoddon says. “I like to try and challenge myself to understand everything I’m involved with. That’s what’s kept me here, and brought me to where I am.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.

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