State-of-the-art healthcare complex officially coming to Moosonee
A project decades in the making is taking a major step forward in providing state-of-the-art healthcare to the James and Hudson Bay area.
First Nations chiefs, community members and government officials gathered for a ground breaking ceremony at Northern College’s Moosonee campus Thursday, to celebrate that development is now underway to replace the area’s outdated regional hospital with a modern healthcare complex.
“Certainly a historic moment, a moment that everyone’s been waiting for for 25-plus years,” said Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) CEO, Lynne Innes, in an interview the next day.
“The atmosphere and the energy that we had yesterday was absolutely amazing.”
The Weeneebayko General Hospital in neighbouring Moose Factory was first built in 1950 as a tuberculosis hospital and has been serving far north communities for over 70 years.
Due to its limited resources, patients with medical emergencies often need to be air-lifted south to hospitals in Timmins and Kingston. And if the weather is poor, patients may need to wait days to access the care they need.
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Modern healthcare in the far north
The new healthcare complex, to be built in Moosonee by Quebec-based Pomerleau Inc., will include a 36-bed hospital with larger emergency room, modern surgical rooms and better primary care.
It will also have dental and pharmacy services, as well as a laboratory, diagnostic imaging and expanded mental health and addictions services.
The complex will have a 32-bed elder lodge, a hostel for patients and residences for staff.
The old hospital will be redeveloped into an ambulatory care centre.
The hope now is that this project will give local patients much of the same equipment and services as the rest of the province and result in less reliance on healthcare facilities elsewhere.
With site-clearing completed last fall, a sign of progress after several decades of calling for improvements in healthcare for the far north, Moose Cree First Nation Chief Mervin Cheechoo told attendees at the ceremony that this project is one that will affect future generations.
“We’ve got to do it right, it’s … almost like a lifetime chance,” said Cheechoo.
“When’s the next hospital ever going to be built in our territory? We’ve got to do it right, starting today.”
‘We can all work together'
Cheechoo said local consultation is critical, which government officials said will be a major focus, as the development phase moves forward and looks to incorporate culturally-sensitive care.
“We see the participation and input from all partners as necessary for the success of this project,” said assistant deputy minister for Indigenous Service Canada, Keith Conn, who’s originally from Moose Factory.
Conn called this an “unprecedented project of this scale and complexity.”
Recorded statements from Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Premier Doug Ford congratulated the community for moving forward on the project, after investing around $20 million into the project in 2020.
The total cost to complete the project hasn’t yet been determined.
“(This) will ensure patients and families across Moosonee, Moose Factory and the James-Hudson Bay coast have access to the high-quality care they need and deserve,” said assistant health minister, Melanie Kohn.
Being able to have many of the same healthcare equipment and services as the rest of the province is something Moosonee Mayor Wayne Taipale said he and area First Nation chiefs had been advocating for over the last few decades.
He said this latest step in the redevelopment project is a sign that collaboration between communities, local experts and all levels of government can lead to results.
“We can all work together, we can all accomplish major things,” said Taipale.
“I think this is a really, really good eye-opener for a lot of people.”
Taipale said he only wished more government officials could have been in attendance, but hoped their travel issues have them reflecting on the struggles local patients and healthcare have dealt with for decades.
A multi-year redevelopment project
The CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, Michael Lindsay, said it will be taking the lead from here, including carrying out consultations and optimizing the design of the new hospital.
He said the Crown agency has delivered around 50 hospital projects in the province.
“We know how important care that is close to home is and this one’s special,” Lindsay said.
The health complex will have capacity for around 500 healthcare workers, which Lynn Innes said WAHA will try its best to fill.
Factoring in the current healthcare worker shortage, she said competitive incentives will likely be part of the plan.
Chief Cheechoo told CTV News that he feels training local people could be part of the solution, pointing to the locally-raised healthcare staff currently working in the area.
With construction expected to begin by 2024 and have the complex in full operation by 2027, officials said the goal is to have everything done as effectively and efficiently as possible.
“We all want the best healthcare services in our region,” said Cheechoo.
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