Mike Carr said recent water testing at the facility has shown some signs of irregularities and inconsistency in test results that indicate levels of copper or lead may be higher than desirable levels.
He added there is no immediate health risk, and no health advisory has been issued.
As a precaution, people are being asked not to consume water from the facility’s taps, fountains and sinks. Potable water was made available for drinking and cooking earlier this week.
“We did that because our concerns were that we were getting variability in the results and we didn’t understand the cause of that,” Carr said.
Officials have not able to iron out the source of copper, according to Carr. He added there are no lead pipes in the building.
“It is presumed that the issue is originating inside the facility, as water tests sourced from the City of North Battleford have been confirmed to be clean,” read a statement issued on Friday from Carr.
“A full investigation and further water testing is occurring at the site to identify the issue and take immediate steps to remediate it. This is a priority and every effort is being made to minimize the amount of time this situation impacts patients and staff.”
Carr said on Friday they learned on Oct. 17 there were questions about the water quality at the facility.
In May, the province revealed the hospital’s roof was leaking and in need of replacement. The government said a product failure happened with modular roofing panels.
The Saskatchewan NDP is raising concerns about the hospital, which was built and is still maintained through a public-private partnerships (P3) model.
“It’s absolutely astounding to think of a hospital where patients can’t drink the water where it’s not clean and safe that’s got to be very distressing to be seeing signs like this on the walls in a hospital where people are already struggling with mental illness,” NDP Leader Ryan Meili said.
“Just doesn’t make any sense and points to poor management on the part of the Sask. Party and I think a real flaw when you look at the Sask. hospital in the P3 model … when it comes to preparing facilities that are safe.”
Meili added that, because this is a P3 project, a great deal of that project is under wraps and said it’s unknown what it is really costing Saskatchewan people.
Carr said, under the P3, they are the beneficial owner of the facility, SNC-Lavalin is the operator and the constructor and builder is Graham Construction Ltd.
“The benefit we have under the P3 relationship is that it is, in fact, the proponents of the P3, in this case, the prairie partnership that has the liability to correct those deficiencies,” Carr said.
“I think that this experience demonstrates the value of the P3 model because it does demonstrate who had the liability for correcting deficiencies that have been identified. Certainly, I think, I would argue that the province has in fact been the beneficiary of identifying these concerns with the building and having the builder fully own that requirement.”
“It’s not unusual to find circumstances where you’re commissioning a new building, especially a building as large and sophisticated as this one, to find you’ve got some challenges through commissioning and into operation.”
Carr said the audit will take a number of weeks.
“The Ministry of Central Services has taken steps to notify the partnership that we, in fact, are going to undertake an audit. Our concern is that we want the assurance that the facility is operating as it was designed and as it should,” Carr said.
“(The) audit will be conducted an independent third-party and our hope is that audit will provide us as the owner with a greater degree of certainty as to where things are at in the facility.”
The 284-bed facility opened in March 2019 at a cost of $407 million.