Pauline Kerr, Advance-Times staff
McBride said at the time, “We are extremely pleased as a hospital and community that the Province of Ontario has recognized the need for improvements to the Wingham and District Hospital. This project will make a significant difference in our ability to continue to provide quality health care services.”
Seven months and one provincial election later, a government headed by the same Liberal premier reneged on the promise made that sunny August morning.
McBride reacted to the news of the cancellation by stating, “The people served by the hospital will be extremely disappointed that this promised redevelopment will not be going forward. After waiting over a decade for the project approvals, the community deserves better. We appreciate the fiscal challenges faced by the Province of Ontario, however, it’s unfortunate that the government chose to make significant promises that it is now unable to keep.”
McBride added, “We, as a board, haven’t had a chance to digest this yet… we’re extremely disappointed.”
Hospital CEO Karl Ellis said the cancellation was “certainly a blow to Wingham. The hospital has not undergone significant redevelopment in the last 25 years.” A major section of the hospital, built in 1946, is still in constant use – it’s where the operating room is located.
Ellis explained the hospital was built in a different time, on a design from the late 1940s. “Medicine has changed,” he said. “We have to undertake some renovations… to function safely.”
He added, “Our staff, physicians and community were looking forward to revitalizing this site so that we could continue to provide high quality health care at the Wingham and District Hospital.”
Both McBride and Ellis noted the cancellation of the redevelopment was not the only blow to the hospital in the provincial budget.
McBride said he spent an hour-and-a-half in an Ontario Hospital Association teleconference Wednesday, with much discussion on funding and union contracts. “They (the OHA) don’t have any answers for us,” he said.
“Funding is not going up significantly, if at all, while there are wage increases built into some of the existing union contracts.”
Ellis said the hospitals in Listowel and Wingham have each traditionally received about $150,000 a year to maintain the facility, and that has been cut in half this year. Ellis called it a “double hit.”
Both McBride and Ellis are aware Wingham isn’t the only community affected. Six major hospital projects were cancelled in the province – two in Huron-Bruce, and five of the six in Conservative ridings.
While hospital board and foundation members, as well as the entire community, come to terms with the cancellation of the project, Ellis suggests some work will have to be done, so the hospital can function. “There are some things we need to undertake, on our own dime,” he said, “smaller things to improve the Wingham hospital.”
Those items – operating and recovery room work, second floor nurse’s station, and sterilization area – were discussed at last week’s hospital board meeting in Listowel.
McBride said a letter from the OHA has been received, asking that a meeting be set up. The date had not been decided as of press time.
While the province was to have provided significant funding for the redevelopment project, plans were already underway for community fundraising to cover the rest.
The redevelopment project for the hospital was not a last-minute item on a provincial health care wish list. It had been in the planning phase since at least 2003, if not earlier.
Deb Matthews, minister of health and long-term care, visited the hospital in the spring of 2011 to see first-hand where improvements were needed, and the South West Local Health Integration Network had endorsed the project earlier in the planning process.
Ellis said the redevelopment featured a three-storey, 11,000 square foot addition that would have housed the diagnostic imaging department, laundry and sterilization facilities, as well as operating rooms and day surgery space. Most of the new construction would have taken place at the rear of the hospital, although the plan called for significant renovations to over half the existing hospital including the emergency department, oncology unit, ambulatory care space and inpatient unit – virtually the entire second floor.
Wingham and District Hospital is part of the Listowel Wingham Hospitals Alliance. It serves a population of about 16,000 people and has 20,000 patients a year pass through its doors.