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Federal funding finally comes through to replace one of Canada’s worst hospitals in the Far North

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The federal government is providing $1.2 billion to help build a new hospital complex on the James Bay Coast, easing residents’ fears that construction wouldn’t start this year.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu announced in Ottawa on Monday that its partnership with Ontario to fund a hospital redevelopment project in Moosonee will move ahead. The province is providing an additional $44 million, bringing its share to almost $1.3 billion.

There were concerns the project would be delayed after the 2024-2025 federal budget didn’t include funding promised last year.

Moose Cree First Nation, where the Far North’s aging and dilapidated general hospital is located, called this “a significant win for First Nations communities across the James Bay region.”

"We are grateful that Canada, as our treaty partner, is committed to seeing the redevelopment project through, which will significantly improve healthcare services crucial to our community’s wellbeing,” Chief Peter Wesley said in a news release.

“Access to modern health care is a fundamental right for all Canadians, ensuring the health and prosperity of families and communities. For the James Bay Cree, it's also a matter of honoring our treaty rights."

The announcement comes after decades of cries for a new hospital in the area.

Originally built in 1950 to sequester tuberculosis patients, the now-called Weeneebayko General Hospital is in such a state of disrepair that local health officials call it one of the worst hospitals in the country.

The federal government first agreed to fund nearly half the costs of building a new health campus in Moosonee back in 2007. Last year, Ottawa and Queen’s Park jointly agreed to fund the hospital redevelopment project, with the goal of having it in full operation in 2027.

But the subsequent lack of budgeted funding left the Far North in a state of panic at the prospect of cancelling construction and having to continue using the aging building.

Communications from Indigenous Services Canada up to this point suggested it would continue investing in repairs.

Posed 'severe health risk'

“It poses a severe health risk rather than being a place for healing,” said Wesley.

“This new investment means we can rebuild. The challenge now is to ensure that the new facilities meet our community’s needs. We will keep working with Canada and Ontario to make sure that happens.”

Last year’s Moosonee hospital complex project commitment detailed a 36-bed hospital with a larger emergency room, modern surgical rooms and better primary care, with capacity for around 500 health-care workers.

It’s also expected to have dental and pharmacy services, a laboratory, diagnostic imaging, expanded mental health and addictions services, a 32-bed elder lodge, a hostel for patients and residences for staff.

Weeneebayko Area Health Authority serves more than 12,000 people in six communities along the James Bay Coast, including Moose Factory Island. The new Weeneebayko General Hospital will be relocated to Moosonee and once complete, will be able to serve the growing community and connect more residents to culturally sensitive program space in a larger state-of-the-art facility.

The old hospital on Moose Factory Island will be redeveloped into an ambulatory care centre.

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