By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new hospital is the best gift ever.
That’s what Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton delivered to Wallaceburg Friday when he announced the province’s commitment to fund the second phase of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance renewal of the Wallaceburg campus.
The project, which combines a new build with the repurposing of some of the existing structure, is estimated to cost at least $25 million. It follows on the heels of the recent completion of a $7.3-million power plant that will provide energy to the new development.
For McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Skills and Training, the announcement was a personal and professional triumph.
“This certainly is a big day, one that happens about once every century,” McNaughton told the crowd at the outdoor ceremony.
McNaughton described how his grandfather Jack was instrumental in bringing health care to Newbury, adding he learned about how important a hospital is to a community.
Being able to make the Wallaceburg announcement is a career highlight, McNaughton noted.
“My one mission as an MPP for the riding was to deliver a new hospital to Wallaceburg,” McNaughton said, adding “the page has been turned” away from the negative past thanks to the leadership of Lori Marshall and her team.
The revamped Wallaceburg campus will see the construction of a state-of-the-art emergency department and five adjacent emergency beds.
A new point-of-care laboratory and a diagnostic imaging area, including radiology and ultrasound, will also be built. Space for expanded ambulatory care will be built, including respiratory care and physiotherapy.
The plan features new construction, the repurposing of some of the current infrastructure, as well as demolition, including the structure’s east wing. The new build is located in the northwest corner of the property.
Marshall, CKHA president and CEO, called the announcement a “milestone” for Wallaceburg’s renewal.
“This site means a great deal to patients and families in Wallaceburg and the surrounding area,” Marshall told the gathering. “Each step is this multi-phase plan brings us closer to ensuring the delivery of safe, high-quality care at this site for years to come.”
The space currently housing the emergency department will be converted into ambulatory care.
“That’s incredible because that’s where growth is happening,” Marshall explained, adding outpatient services will be expanded.
“This announcement gives us the green light to start planning for that,” she added.
Marshall, leader of the CKHA for the past five years, stressed that services in Wallaceburg will be new, not simply a transfer of programs from Chatham.
She also acknowledged that Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nation, are areas of “high needs” due to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and emergency room visits, along with low consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and high rates of smoking.
“We can see the real need for contemporary, aggressive approaches to care,” Marshall said.
As a Tory backbencher, McNaughton joined a bitter in- the-trenches fight to stave off closure of Wallaceburg’s Sydenham District Hospital.
A group called Save Our Sydenham was formed in the early 2000s, going head to head with government and health-care officials alike, as more and more services were withdrawn from Wallaceburg’s hospital.
Cuts to services in Wallaceburg came into play after the province mandated Sydenham hospital to form a tri-board with Chatham General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
But the forced marriage didn’t work, instead devolving into a dysfunctional mess that was deeply in the red.
Eventually, the Ministry of Health was called in and a new leader was appointed to sort out the crisis.
Former Wallaceburg mayor and municipal councillor Jeff Wesley, who helped spearhead the fight to save the Sydenham hospital, called the announcement a “great day for Wallaceburg.”
He credited both McNaughton and Marshall for keeping their word.
“Monte has been with us since day one,” Wesley said, adding hearing Marshall say the words “one team, two sites” means a lot.
Wesley said having a hospital in Wallaceburg is critical.
“For the community, it is absolutely crucial to future growth,” Wesley said.
Currently, the province funds 90 per cent of the capital build with 10 per cent coming from the community.
The community is also responsible for funding 100 per cent of the required equipment.
The next stage of the project will see detailed design plans that will include community consultation. These will be then submitted to the ministry for approval.
There’s no definite timeline for the new hospital, however, McNaughton told reporters the goal is “to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.”