Budget cash could go to a new hospital in Hamilton
Lots of possibilities for provincial money
A new hospital is on the table here as Hamilton Health Sciences decides what do with its share of $9 billion in capital cash from the province.
HHS was one of five hospitals across Ontario identified in the 2017 budget as being newly approved for a major redevelopment project. It’s not known how much each hospital will get.
“The province is recognizing that Hamilton Health Sciences has significant redevelopment needs,” said CEO Rob MacIsaac. “They’ve indicated a commitment in the budget to work with us to begin to realize the plan. Neither they nor we are committing to specific projects.”
MacIsaac expects HHS will decide by the end of the calendar year what parts of its 20-year plan will get done first and start negotiating with the Ministry of Health.
Its vision calls for a new women’s and children’s hospital to be built near Hamilton General and become part of its campus. HHS would stop operating St. Peter’s Hospital and McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC) and focus care at Hamilton General and Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.
Outdated parts of the downtown and Mountain hospitals would be redeveloped.
In addition, Grimsby’s West Lincoln Memorial Hospital would be rebuilt and expanded to take on a substantial portion of day surgery currently done in Hamilton.
A big part of the plan is creating community clinics or other ways to access services in neighbourhoods.
“The whole thing will not happen together,” said MacIsaac. “We’re more likely to go in stages. There will have to be some work done on prioritizing what projects go first.”
Everything is currently on the table from the plan, which was approved by the board nearly one year ago and supported by the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he wants to see Hamilton’s current hospitals modernized first.
“My sense of it is that we still have some aging parts of our facilities at The General and Juravinski that are going back to the 1930s, so it could use some renewal and upgrading,” he said. “I think you would probably want to fix first what you have and get that into current 21st century standards.”
He would like to see an urgent care centre built on West Mountain as one of the new community clinics.
“It’s an access point that is far less expensive than housing people in a hospital and takes the pressure off the emergency rooms throughout the city, which is really a pinch point in terms of health care,” he said. “I think that would be helpful.”
He’s undecided on whether Hamilton needs a new hospital, particularly since HHS closed the adult emergency room at MUMC six years ago to focus on caring for children, as part of the Access to Best Care (ABC) plan.
“I think it makes sense to consolidate,” he said.
But it comes on the heels of a recent change not too long ago.
“I’m a little leery of constant change. But I know their goal and ambition is to improve health care for all.”
The head of one of the unions representing HHS workers thinks now is the time to ask for a new hospital. Three of the five other projects approved in the budget are new hospitals.
“It does make sense,” said Dave Murphy, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 7800. “It would be a building (HHS) actually owns as opposed to leasing it from McMaster University. (MUMC) needs a lot of money in renovations and upkeep. What a better way, to start fresh with a new hospital, so money can go to hospital services instead of fixing bad infrastructure.”
Murphy says workers want a voice, while HHS is deciding on the priorities.
“We have to be at the table. So far they have been pretty transparent with us. So, as long as they continue that now that they have the money. I think the community should have some input as well,” he said.
Former HHS board chair Marvin Ryder, who helped approve the ABC plan, says modernizing West Lincoln will likely be at the top of the list.
“I think that will be the first priority, because it’s just so overdue,” said Ryder. “This peculiar idea of vacating McMaster University Medical Centre …. If I was guessing the timing of that I’d be guessing Year 15 of 20 instead of Year 2.”
West Lincoln was supposed to be demolished and a new $207-million hospital built, until the Liberals killed the plan in the 2012 budget — along with four other projects in Conservative-held ridings. The MPP at the time was opposition leader Tim Hudak.
“We know that hospital is well beyond its best before date,” said MacIsaac. “It’s very old. It will be near the top, but we have other parts of our infrastructure that are also really old.”
Former LHIN board member Stephen Birch, who resigned because of a lack of public consultation when the ABC plan was approved, worries the same process is happening again.
While HHS talked to the community before the plan was created, Birch questions whether there has been any input since.
“As with the ABC plan several years ago, it appears the plan has been developed and now has funds allocated to it by the government without any public scrutiny,” he said.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she was not consulted before or after the plan was created.
“There are not enough hospital beds, period. And whatever Hamilton Health Sciences decides to do with the money, it better be about making sure we have enough hospital beds to serve the needs of the patients,” she said.
“We see too many situations where people are lined up in hallways in stretchers for days on ends in emergency wards and that’s not good enough.”