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MRI lab on the way, new hospital hopefully close behind: CGMH president

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital's president and CEO reflects on the last year and the work ahead for 2024
Mike Lacroix is the president and CEO of Collingwood General and Marine Hospital.

Collingwood hospital’s president and CEO is predicting a busy 2024 as the new hospital plans progress and construction gets underway for an MRI lab in the current building.

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (CGMH) had an eventful 2023 beginning with an announcement of funding to operate a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lab and continuing with a major submission of program plans to the provincial government for a future hospital.

The hospital also began a pilot project to offer arrival time appointments for the emergency department in response to long wait times, limited access to primary care physicians and other common health-care issues plaguing Ontario’s hospitals.

Mike Lacroix, president and CEO of CGMH, said there is a lot of work ahead of him and his team in the next 12 to 24 months. 

“But it’s all exciting work, which is great,” he said during an interview with CollingwoodToday in late December. 

MRI lab

About this time last year, the province announced Collingwood’s hospital was getting funding to operate an MRI lab. However, that money only covered the daily operation, and the hospital was on the hook to raise the cost of the machine and renovations required to house the machine. 

At the end of 2023, the hospital foundation achieved its fundraising goal of $5 million to cover the cost of the machine and renovations to create lab space for it. 

Lacroix thanked the community for its support of the campaign and its donations. 

“Over the past year, we’ve been hard at work in planning for the installation of this new machine,” he said. “It does take a long time in terms of procurement.” 

The hospital put out a request for bids in April and is working on the final steps to award the contract. 

“We have our architects and engineering teams that we’re working with to help mock up what the MRI suite would look like,” Lacroix said, adding the new suite will be in the basement of the hospital. “So, that’s also exciting that we get to have a sense of where it will be placed.” 

He expected the hospital would be able to order the MRI machine by the end of December 2023.

“If everything goes to plan, we look to … have the MRI operational sometime in the 12- to 14-month range … Quarter 1 of 2025,” said Lacroix. 

He said hospital staff are excited to get the lab up and running. 

“This is a service that has become the gold standard across diagnostic imaging,” he said. “We know that access to this type of service is huge for our population.”

He noted people in the hospital’s regional catchment area currently travel to Owen Sound or Barrie for an MRI scan.

“Over 4,000 people annually have to leave our community to get this type of exam,” he said.

CGMH has funding from the province for 2,000 operating hours for its MRI lab in the first year, which equates to about 6,000 to 7,000 MRI scans in a year. 

While the news about an MRI lab in Collingwood has led the headlines, the hospital is refreshing most of its diagnostic imaging department in 2024, with a new CT scanner in the summer, a new nuclear medicine system also around summertime, and a new X-ray machine. 

“Most hospitals don’t replace all those in one shot,” Lacroix said, noting the “stars aligned” in the replacement timeline for the hospital’s imaging machines. “It goes back to our community and our foundation, and the fact that we’ve been able to raise this money to have the latest and greatest technology.” 

The new machines likely won’t be moved from the current hospital to a new one, because they will probably have come to the end of their usable lifespan by 2031-32, when a new hospital is expected to come online. 

New hospital

Progress was made in 2023 toward that new hospital with the functional programs submission (Part 3 of the application process) sent to the province by CGMH in the spring.

The document outlines the hospital’s proposal for services, predictions for activity volumes and staffing requirements, as well as an outline for new technologies. 

Details such as all-private rooms, new inpatient mental health and rehabilitation beds, and expanded medical and surgical bed capacities were included in the latest submission. 

“We’re probably going to see, I’m hoping, a six-month time frame where we’ve exhausted all (the province’s) questions … and the functional program will be in a place where it can be approved and we can start to move forward,” said Lacroix. 

The proposal also favours a new hospital on a new site, instead of a rebuild on the existing 12.6 acres. According to an agreement between the town and the developers of the proposed Poplar Regional Health and Wellness Village (Live Work Learn Play Inc. and Di Poce Development Ltd.), there is a 30-acres parcel of land being set aside on the 130-acre site at Poplar Sideroad and Raglan Street for a future hospital.

“The hope is that this time next year, we’re going to be working very closely with Infrastructure Ontario going through the detailed planning stage to help inform the eventual proposal that goes out to construction firms for bidding,” said Lacroix. 

While timelines can shift, and the finish line is still far off, he predicted shovels in the ground by about 2028. 

The province hasn’t approved a new hospital on a new site, but Lacroix said the CGMH submission “heavily” favours the new site.

“It’s cheaper. It’s faster. I think it protects the investment made provincially, but, more importantly, the local share of the investment that we have to make,” he said, adding the land is not only more than double the size of the current hospital site, but it’s also being donated.

In the meantime, there are renovations ongoing at the current site. Lacroix said there’s an effort to prioritize and maximize clinical space in the CGMH building (including an MRI lab) by pushing administrative and human resource uses into outbuildings on site. Portables in the back lot serve as office space for some non-clinical hospital use.

“That’s probably going to be a trend for us over the next number of years, and by the time we leave this building, it’s going to be fully maximized from a clinical lens,” said Lacroix. 

Space continued to be a challenge for the hospital in 2023, and will continue to be until a new hospital is built. 

“I’m sure a lot of hospitals are experiencing space challenges, but here, in particular, we are just running out of space and we have to be innovative, we have to be creative in how we free up space,” said Lacroix. 

Some of the creative solutions have been less than ideal, such as patients having to move to other hospitals. 

But some of the innovations have improved the patient experience at CGMH while maximizing access to the hospital’s health-care professionals. 

Emergency appointments

At the end of November of this year, the hospital announced a new pilot project offering a few same-day appointment spots for its emergency department available to the public. 

The idea was to streamline the emergency visit process for people with coughs, cold symptoms and minor limb injuries — in other words, patients who needed to see a doctor urgently, but not immediately. 

The project began with five appointment times booked the same day or the day before between 8 and 9:15 a.m. Monday to Friday. 

“Anecdotally, things are going quite well, and those five appointments we have each morning are being booked and utilized,” said Lacroix. “Our aim of this pilot project was really trying to create a bit of predictability in a department that’s very unpredictable.” 

He noted the appointments also offer an opportunity for patients who can’t get in to see their primary care physicians, or who don’t have primary care physicians, to see a doctor. 

The Collingwood pilot mirrors one started in Barrie at Royal Victoria Regional Hospital in May 2023, and Lacroix said the two hospitals are working together to collect data on the impact and efficiency of the program. 

He said the program came about as a result of conversations between the hospital and family health teams about backlogs in health care. 

“We do have an after-hours clinic and they’re always backlogged as well, in terms of those appointments, so I think there is a real need and it’s not just in this area; I think it’s across the province and across the country,” said Lacroix. “I believe there will be a role and a place for this type of non-urgent scheduling in the hospital setting, especially in a smaller community like ours, where there (are) limited options as to who you can see and when.”

He noted the pilot project is still in early days and more study needs to be done before changes are made, but conversations are ongoing with health-care providers in the region. 

“I think we can’t just sit back and keep doing the same things that we’ve been doing for all these years,” said Lacroix. “I think it’s time for a bit of innovation.” 

In the spirit of innovation, CGMH now has an improved patient satisfaction survey, and a renewed focus for its patient, family and caregiver advisory committee. 

“We really challenged ourselves to do better in this area and gather the patient’s voice and really amplify it and have it a part of everything we do,” said Lacroix. 

For more information on same-day emergency department appointments, the future hospital and other CGMH initiatives, visit the hospital’s website at

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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