(WINDSOR, ON) – Windsor Regional Hospital seems to have two strikes against its ambitious and costly new hospital plan. A third is possibly on the way.
The operator of the city’s two acute care hospitals wants to decommission both and replace the pair with a walk-in type clinic on the site of the old Salvation Army-Grace Hospital and a so-called Mega Hospital south of the city’s airport.
It was Dr Eric Hoskins who pitched the first strike to WRH. The then Minister of Health and Long Term Care, at a funding announcement for the project last November, suggested the province might favour repurposing WRH’s Ouellette Campus, rather than build a new facility from scratch on the Grace site. A possibility to recycle and save construction costs seemed to resonate with the minister.
Next came Premier Kathleen Wynne’s town hall in Windsor last month and WRH’s second strike. Wynne said the location for the new hospital is not yet fixed despite WRH’s plan to build it in an undeveloped and unserviced soybean field.
Opponents against closing both hospitals, including the public advocacy group Citizens for an Accountable Mega-hospital Planning Process, are at odds with WRH’s concept and know the next potential strike could be at the planning approval stage for the proposed location.
Armed and ready with signage and other means of information dissemination, the activists are getting ready to launch an aggressive campaign to alert taxpayers of the situation. Among the items at issue is the threat of more costly urban sprawl.
Servicing farmland around the undeveloped farmer’s field, and filling much of it with an asphalt parking lot, could cost Windsor taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The distance from the developed and most densely populated area of the city is also a critical factor in the opposition.
CAMPP says Windsor, if WRH is successful, could be the first city in Canada to have turned its back on where the majority of patients live.
Currently taxpayers are paying an added yearly tax of 1% on top of their taxes to cover the city’s cost to build the new hospital. But, this surcharge does not cover the costs of servicing the current agricultural land.
One of the challenges for CAMPP is an apparent high degree of apathy by local residents. Few seem aware that both of the city’s hospitals will no longer exist once the Mega-Hospital is opened. Those who know the end is in sight for the city’s last two acute care hospitals are becoming vocal and reasoned in their opposition.
CAMPP member, Michelle Oncea, in a Facebook post, reported on her discussion with a former health care worker.
“I had a long conversation with a retired nurse this morning,” wrote Oncea, “Even though she lives a few minutes from the proposed location she’s not in favour of it. With no prompting from me, her words: it’s important for hospitals to be where the people are, it needs to be accessible to those without cars, the city needs to be built up not torn apart, she’s upset that doctors, nurses and hospital staff have been told to not say anything negative about it.”
Admittedly CAMPP has quite the mountain to climb, given so few in the city are up-to-date on WRH’s plans. City Hall workers are also uninformed.
A CAMPP volunteer went to City Hall to see the plans WRH submitted to the city for planning review. She was told by a civil servant that the plans are for a new hospital to augment the two that already exist. In other words, the city is about to get a third hospital, not lose two.
To overcome the obstacle of lack of public knowledge, CAMPP, which has already flooded the city with Re-Think lawn signs, is now looking at other ways to inform taxpayers who could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.
So far, Windsor Council has yet to publicly discuss the hospital location. That may happen shortly, however. There is also the possibility the hospital’s location could become an election issue.