The announcement of provincial funding for a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lab at Collingwood’s hospital at the end of 2022 was big news, but it also raised the oft-asked question: When will Collingwood get a new hospital?
While there are still a lot of details to be worked out, the president of Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (CGMH) said the process is still on track to get shovels in the ground by 2027. Whether those shovels will be digging the fresh greenfield land off Poplar Sideroad or into the existing ground at the Hume Street location is yet to be determined.
CGMH president and CEO Mike Lacroix said the hospital redevelopment team is at the “tail end” of the preliminary planning and design stage of the project, and what follows will be the “real detail stages.”
“Right now we’re looking at a high level where things would be positioned in the department, but the next detail planning is where we get very specific. We’re talking about where the wall sockets are going to be placed,” said Lacroix in a recent interview.
He expects to submit the next phase (formerly known as stage two of five) to the province by March 2023.
One of the major questions on the minds of residents is where the new hospital will be located. Lacroix said it would be ideal to get a decision from the province on that prior to the hospital’s next submission of high-level design. In the absence of a decision, the hospital is submitting two options.
“The first, the brownfield option (redevelopment on the existing site) was what was asked of us, and, in addition to that, we’re supplying a greenfield option as well,” said Lacroix.
The term greenfield refers to development on open land without any existing buildings on it.
“I think it’s safe to say that after stage two, or as part of stage two, we need to define where this thing will be built, and the hope is that we can get that information from the Ministry (of Health) sooner rather than later,” said Lacroix.
The hospital has been offered acreage off Poplar Sideroad as part of the future regional health and wellness village proposed. Recently, the province approved a minister’s zoning order (MZO) to change the land-use zoning on the site and allow a mix of uses, including health care.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on that,” said Lacroix. “The MZO approval actually gives us a true, valid greenfield option. I think we’ve always been eyeing that site, and we have a potential donor who’s willing to donate 30 acres for the use of a hospital. The challenge we’ve always had, and why that … transfer has not occurred yet, is because that existing site was not zoned for hospital use.”
He said the hospital will note this zoning approval in its submission to the province for the greenfield site option.
The new hospital departments and components will still be subject to provincial approval, but Lacroix said the main changes will be an increase of about 67 per cent to the hospital’s total bed count. While most will be medical/surgical beds, there will be two new services, including 14 inpatient rehabilitation beds and mental health inpatient beds.
The addition of mental health beds was not included in the hospital’s stage one submission in 2016, but Lacroix said it came up as the hospital took stock of the people coming into the emergency department.
Currently, those needing a mental health inpatient bed, including those in crisis, will be transferred to a “schedule one” facility, often as far away as Penetanguishene.
Additionally, Lacroix said, the hospital’s redevelopment submission will make a case for outpatient mental health beds, to get care to people before they have to come to the emergency department in an acute and/or crisis situation.
“We were realistic in our approach, knowing that whatever we put out there is always subject to negotiation and discussion with the ministry,” he said. “But what we are fighting for is the services that we feel this community needs and requires and making sure that we have enough space.”
Lacroix said the hospital will be releasing its stage two/design phase submission publicly after submitting it to the province.
“Our goal is to do that … just to make sure that our community is up to speed on what we have included … and keep in mind … we still have a number of stages to go and there’s a lot of future opportunity for further refinements as we go forward,” he said.
The hospital redevelopment project has been in the news for about a decade. Lacroix said there was even a pre-capital submission to the province in 2010. Stage one submissions were made in 2016, but not formally approved by the province until August 2021. That approval announcement from the province was vague, and didn’t commit to a new hospital on a new site.
“It’s taken us quite a bit to get from stage one to stage two, so I think there’s a little bit of hesitancy to get too excited, because this could get delayed again, but I think a lot has changed,” said Lacroix. “And the big one for me is we are now on the Infrastructure Ontario project list … That’s the list that our province and Infrastructure Ontario is working with.”
He looks forward to the upcoming stages where people will be able to see architectural drawings and will have a better way to visualize the new hospital.
He acknowledged “landing on a site is also integral so there’s no question as to where this will be built.”
In the meantime, Lacroix said, the hospital is getting strong support from local governments and politicians.
“I feel like we’re all on the same page,” he said, mentioning the support is coming from Collingwood and the other municipalities the hospital serves (The Blue Mountains, Clearview Township, and Wasaga Beach).
“I’m feeling that everyone is aligned. I think there’s a preference … for a greenfield option. I think everyone knows that this is what is needed for this community, and anything less than that, if we’re looking at a redevelopment on site, it’s going to take twice as long to do.”
He said the current role for municipal governments is to carry on providing support. The hospital has had input on Collingwood’s draft official plan to make sure a new hospital could be built.
Lacroix was promoted to CEO this year, after former president and CEO Norah Holder retired.
While the redevelopment is a big file on his desk, there are others, including a shortage of health human resources that is nationwide, and making the current hospital space work for the needs that exist.
For instance, the hospital will get funding to operate an MRI lab, but it will have to build the lab and the foundation will have to raise money for the MRI machine and the lab construction.
That’s in addition to other diagnostic imaging equipment (nuclear imaging, CT scanner) being purchased thanks to funds raised in the community — all of which will need a home in the hospital.
“We really have to look over the next … five to seven years … at how we can shuffle, move the deck chairs around, to make sure that we have enough space in certain areas,” said Lacroix.
He said the emergency department is one of the biggest challenges for space, as well as the number of inpatient beds. The hospital currently has 84 beds and provides acute care, diganostic services through the lab, imaging and cardiorespiratory therapy, as well as two inpatient units (medicine and surgery).
The hospital also provides care in obstetrics, orthopedics, intensive care, and surgery as well as outpatient care in dialysis, and clinics for mental health and rehabilitation.
The latest news and more on the hospital redevelopment project can be found via the yourfuturehospital.com website set up by CGMH.