Though the Ontario Health Minister announced funding to help plan an expanded Collingwood hospital on the existing site, that may not be the final result of the multi-year process.
On Tuesday, the deputy premier and health minister, Christine Elliott, announced the province was contributing $15 million toward the planning and design of an expanded and upgraded Collingwood General and Marine Hospital.
Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson said the money will help make a case for a new hospital.
"Today’s an excellent announcement, we’ll get to use part of that $15 million to convince Queen’s Park that we need a new build rather than using parts of the old building,” Wilson told CollingwoodToday following Tuesday's announcement.
Elliott's news also included the official word that the hospital’s first-stage submissions have been accepted and the redevelopment project will move into the second stage to create a “functional plan” for a new hospital that involves adding onto and upgrading the current facility on the Hume Street site.
“It is a big consideration on a fairly small footprint,” said Elliott of the project.
When asked if the government would still support a new hospital in a different space, she left her answer open-ended.
"There's been a big demand for funds for health care dealing with COVID and there is only so much money that can be put into capital redevelopment, but this is a really important project, and that's why we're moving forward with the second phase," said Elliott. "That's why the $15 million is going into redevelopment and planning."
Wilson took her answer as a glimmer of hope his dream of a new build on Poplar Sideroad is still possible.
“I think we’re getting closer to convincing Queen’s Park that they’re not going to be able to use parts of the old building,” Wilson told CollingwoodToday following Elliott’s announcement. “The minister gave a very honest answer today with COVID and millions spent on that, it’s harder and harder to convince them to do a new build on a new site, but we’ll spend the $15 million to do just that."
Wilson has been advocating for a new hospital in Collingwood for many years, and said his vision in pushing for the Highway 26 re-alignment included a new hospital off the new highway.
He’s eyeing the property adjacent to Georgian College, with hopes the college can expand its nursing program to the South Georgian Bay campus and with interest from local nursing homes to also expand into the same are.
“Our dream is to be the first midsize teaching hospital with a rural small town focus that doesn’t exist in this province today .. and to do it on a health care campus where we’ve also had interest from local nursing homes to expand out there,” said Wilson.
He acknowledged there is support in the community to keep the hospital where it is and expand and develop on the same site.
“But it’s a once-in-100-year opportunity,” said Wilson. “I think if you’re reaching for a goal, you reach for the top of that goal and the top goal is a healthcare campus beside Georgian College with home care.”
Wilson is urging anyone who wants to see the same vision to let the premier and minister of health know with a petition and/or an email. He pointed to the Niagara Falls example where a citizen movement caused the province to reverse its initial decision not to build a hospital in the community. Pre-COVID, Premier Doug Ford announced there would be a new hospital built in Niagara Falls.
The new or redeveloped hospital proposal will, however, come from the hospital with input from the community and partners, including area municipalities.
CGMH President and CEO Norah Holder reiterated the redevelopment project is a “marathon, not a sprint.”
She said the second stage will take about 12 to 18 months to complete and she didn’t have an estimate for how much longer it would take to get to the construction stage.
“We need to take a look at the services and programs and determine what parts of this hospital can be redeveloped,” said Holder. “And also what do we require in a newly built state in regards to having a state-of-the art hospital that meets current and emerging standards.”
Though she was asked about whether the redeveloped hospital will fit in the existing space, she said any comments on the space required would be premature.
“Stage two will be an opportunity for us to look at the services and programs we determined in stage one were essential and needed,” said Holder. “This is about verifying the programs and the services, taking a look at what the space is, and then we can take a look at what it is that we need in terms of land and what we can build in relation to that. Stage two will probably define that better.”
Dr. Michael Lisi, the hospital’s chief of staff, said he is elated over the news the CGMH project is moving into the second stage.
“I’m so thrilled we have the funds that were announced today to be able to fine-tune our plans,” Lisi told CollingwoodToday following the announcement. “By doing that, we’ll really get a good picture of where we’re at and where we should be going.”
He said there is also benefit to planning and designing a hospital in a post-COVID era.
“We’ve seen and experienced COVID processes that will allow us to think about infection, prevention and control measures in a different way,” he said. “We’ll see some changes that will benefit healthcare and that will benefit our patients when they come into the hospital. They’ll be safer as a result.”
Though part of the planning process for a new hospital is establishing programs and services and the space to offer them, Lisi said his top priority for the new facility is to protect its heart.
“When you take a community hospital and you do a rebuild, I think it’s extremely important that you keep the heart of your community,” said Lisi. “It’s about caring and thinking about others. The structure is the structure, but if we keep the heart and sentiment there, that’s the most important.”
To read more about Elliott’s announcement on Aug. 10, click here.
The CGMH submitted its first version of the stage one application in 2016 and has since re-submitted drafts as per the province’s feedback.
In 2019 the province’s budget included support for the CGMH redevelopment application.
It was included again in the 2021 budget.
In April, 2021, CGMH was included in the province’s list of infrastructure in the pre-procurement stage.
The quarterly update issued by the provincial government is a list of public-private partnership projects that are planned for the next 10 years. The dollar figure assigned to the Collingwood hospital project is a range from $200 million to $499 million.
According to Wilson, the higher end of the range could include a new build and the lower may refer to a redevelopment on the current site.
Information provided by CGMH stated the redeveloped hospital will include:
- the expansion of key services, including intensive care, emergency, diagnostic imaging, and the operating suite,
- inclusion of new rehabilitation beds to provide care closer to home and the community,
- additional inpatient capacity to allow the hospital to serve more patients and families; and
- renovations to upgrade the existing facility to ensure a comfortable environment for patients to receive care