By Mike Williscraft
West Niagara residents who have been waiting for years, decades in many cases, for a light at the end of a new hospital build tunnel got a little encouragement this week.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott officially laid out the functional program requirements to be included in the rebuilt West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in a letter to Hamilton Health Sciences officials.
“This letter confirms what I have been advocating for since day one. The Government of Ontario and Premier Doug Ford are listening, and building up our vital healthcare infrastructure. Our new WLMH will have all the services needed to provide world-class, comprehensive community healthcare in West Niagara,” said Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff.
“The residents of the area have waited a long time for the details of the new build, and I know they will be happy to see that the needs of patients, seniors, mothers, and families are addressed in the new facility.”
At Grimsby council Monday, Mayor Jeff Jordan highlighted the announcement, noting he and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton and West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma have been meeting regularly “to move the hospital file forward,” while lauding the scope of the program parameters.
“We will be pushing Hamilton Health Sciences and the Province to work together,” adding the plan now calls for a new build budgeted for $200 million, which will be about 30 per cent larger then initially projected.
Services in the now-larger anticipated facility will include:
• Four surgical suites
• 56 in-patient beds
• Eight nursery bassinets
• Five labour birthing and recovery suites
•Acute in-patient services
• Ambulatory services
• Complex continuing care
• Maternal and newborn services
• Day surgical services
“There is a focus on full, wrap-around care,” said Oosterhoff.
“Special services, post-op, day surgery…it is what we need to see for high-quality care for our future.”
The commitment to services is a piece of information which has been long-needed, said WLMH Action Committee co-chair Tony Joosse.
“The public needed to know, the Region and local councils needed to know,” said Joosse. “And the programs are solidified as any changes to what was laid out would have to go back to the Ministry of Health for approval.”
Joosse noted there are several components of the programming items which are good for the town, but a couple of them are key to providing a sustainable health care model locally.
“Maintaining an obstetrics department, which has been a key to our community for a long time, and going from two to four operating rooms – which will allow West Niagara residents to someday have surgeries here, instead of going out of town – is a great thing,” said Joosse.
“The four operating rooms and obstetrics secures that. It is a huge step.”
“Now, seniors to babies, anyone, can get the services they need at this new facility right in their own backyard.”
As to the escalated cost, up from the initially suggested $150 million, Oosterhoff said the plan covers long-term needs for the growing area.
“It will provide an appropriate level of care. Both the Minister of Health and Premier Doug Ford, along with many others, have reached out to ensure there is a full community care model not just for today but the future,” he said.
“It is not a cheap project, but it is a balance between an extra expansive model and something much smaller. It will not be St. Joe’s or McMaster but it will serve Niagara West well.”
“We landed in a good place.”
Now the focus will start to switch to funding models and carving up the projected 30 per cent local share needed for the $200 million build.
“There is a big commitment needed there,” noted Oosterhoff, adding furnishings, equipment and other internal items not related to the building itself all need to be paid for locally.
“Niagara West residents showed they were engaged going all the way back to HHS’s Our Healthy Future visioning exercise. That was a program to develop a 20-year plan for health care needs,” noted Joosse.
“The Grimsby Seniors Centre was packed for those sessions. It is thanks to the engagement of the public, to the provincial government and HHS that we are where we are.
Niagara West had the best-attended sessions and engagement grew from there.
Now, Joosse notes, fundraising for the local portion of the project is a challenge where more engagement is needed.
“Fundraising is the next big step, no doubt,” said Joosse.
“The Province and HHS have done what we asked them to do, Now it is our turn to deliver. Now is the time for further engagement.”
In general numbers, Joosse said need for local fundraising could be in the $10 million-$15 million range – this after contributions from West Lincoln Memorial Hospital Foundation, Niagara Region as well as the municipalities of Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln are accumulated towards the $60 million needed.
At this point especially, the fundraising target is still very much a moving one since the $60 million is based on 30 per cent of the currently budgeted amount.
“This is all based on a $200 million build,” said Joosse.
“If the cost goes up, the local share will go up as well.”
Discussions and planning are well underway among Niagara West municipalities and Joosse noted Niagara West residents have always come through where WLMH is concerned.
“It is time for the community to step up once again,” said Joosse.
“We have been waiting to get to this point for decades. We are much closer to the finish line but the hard work and heavy lifting is coming, too.”
With the $1.5 million already committed to get the Stage 2 level of the process moving, Oosterhoff said he is expecting HHS to file their plan for executing the included programming at the new WLMH by late summer, early fall.