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Community perseverance drives new hospital development in Markdale

'If you look at history, very few [rural hospitals] have been built. So, not only is it rare, it's quite remarkable that after fighting for 20 years, the community has finally succeeded.' - Gary Sims, CEO of Grey Bruce Health Services

Markdale is getting a new hospital. But the Grey Bruce Health Services (GBHS) CEO says it may still take some time for residents and staff to call the future facility home. 

“The current building has given more than a lifetime of service and people love their old hospital,” said Gary Sims, president and CEO of GBHS. 

“They remember their children being born there, they can remember when Bob passed away that night with his wife. They remember all of those lived journeys. And for my staff, they don't just go to work. There is a great commitment to their hospital, their service, and to their neighbours. And that runs very deep within the community.”

The current hospital in Markdale was founded in the late-1920’s and has provided care for more than 20,000 people living in Grey Highlands, Southgate, West Grey, Chatsworth, Dundalk, Flesherton and Markdale. 

The facility currently employs 85 full- and part-time staff members. 

“When that building was first built it was state-of-the-art, but over the years healthcare and the delivery of healthcare has evolved. Our staff have had to adjust to that environment to make it work,” he said. “All credit to the staff that work and have worked so diligently and so hard in that old building.” 

For more than 20 years, the local community has been raising funds and pushing the local and upper-tier governments to invest in a new healthcare facility in Markdale. Something Sims said he finds hard to believe. 

“This is the longest I've ever seen a community fight for a new facility. But I would say, it speaks to the community's commitment to the hospital and its importance to them,” Sims said. “They haven't given up and they raised millions of dollars toward this over a 20-year period. They have just not stopped.”

In late February, the Ontario Ministry of Health approved the GBHS proposal and the new facility is finally becoming a reality. 

“It pays to persevere,” said Grey Highlands Mayor, Paul McQueen. “This has been in the works for almost 25 years. I know there was a big campaign somewhere around 2000, where the community raised $13 million toward the capital costs.”

Sims added that he has seen frustration from the community because it has taken so long to get the project moving.  

“I do feel an extreme frustration from the community and to some degree, a lack of trust, or a need for that trust to be rebuilt as the new hospital gets built so that people believe it's actually happening,” he said. “Some people gave over a million dollars 15 to 20 years ago. There are those people who have waited so patiently for this.” 

The new facility is being constructed to the west of Grey Gables long-term care home on Toronto Street South. Construction crews began site preparation last week. 

“If you look at history, very few [rural hospitals] have been built. So, not only is it rare, it's quite remarkable that after fighting for 20 years, the community has finally succeeded,” Sims said. 

The new facility is expected to be much more inviting for both patients and for staff to work in, with "more efficient, cleaner, larger spaces and a better allocation of resources.”

The new $70-million facility will be 68,000-square feet and will include: a 24/7 emergency room with four exam and treatment areas; a laboratory; diagnostic imaging services; a physiotherapy department; space for ambulatory care clinics; inpatient beds; a palliative care room; and two ambulance bays.

“It will modernize every aspect of the care that's presently provided in the hospital, plus it expands the ambulatory abilities, which is key for a small community,” Sims said.

He explained that many routine procedures that were once in-patient procedures are now managed through ambulatory care.

“For example, GBHS’s Owen Sound site, which is the largest of the sites that we have, it was built as a 401-bed hospital but currently it has 169 beds in operation. However, the number of people we treat each year is probably tenfold what it was originally. So, it's interesting to know that a lot of the things that we do as outpatients used to be inpatient procedures,” Sims explained. 

According to Sims, over the past several years Markdale has lost services because it did not have sufficient ambulatory space. With the new facility, GBHS is planning to reintroduce its mobile scope program, as well as bring in specialty clinics.

Along with providing more healthcare options closer to home, the new facility will also help to attract and retain professionals to the region. 

“When the technology is better, it makes the workplace more inviting to the people that want to work there,” he said. “It is also a community necessity in that people will not relocate or live in an area in an area where they don't have access to good schools, policing and healthcare.” 

Construction for the facility is expected to take two years and GBHS hopes to welcome staff and patients by 2023. 

“For me, this is really congratulations to the community and I'm just happy to be part of the team that's finally fulfilling their wishes,” Sims added. 

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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