By Don Crosby – Published in The Owen Sound Sun Times
The cancellation of four hospital projects as part of last week’s provincial budget has not dampened the spirits of some people working toward a new hospital in Markdale.
“The word is the hospital is not dead, it has absolutely not been pulled out of the line,” said Dr. Hamilton Hall, former chairman of a committee that helped raise more than $13 million for the new facility. “They made it clear they are not going to make any new announcements this year because of the budget. But the hospital is still in play.”
In an interview with The Sun Times last week, health minister Deb Matthews said a replacement for the 60-year-old Centre Grey Hospital was still on the province’s radar. It will be “a little further out,” she said, possibly two or three years away from moving forward. Matthews said she supports the project and “would love to
see it” proceed.
It’s been a long haul for those working toward a new hospital for Markdale. About $13 million has been raised or pledged in the community. In 2006, the Liberal government announced $3 million to fund the project’s initial planning and design stage. Three years later, the government said a new hospital was still its priority.
Earlier this year, a delegation from Grey Bruce Health Services met with Matthews’ staff, “and we were reassured that the new hospital remains under active consideration as part of the government’s capital plan,” said president and CEO Maureen Solecki.
Chris Griffin, a member of the community advisory committee and a trustee on the GBHS board of directors, said Matthews’ remarks were what the people of the area realistically wanted to hear.
“What she said was you have a good project, you have done all of the right things, you’re going in the right direction. It can’t be done today or tomorrow. It’ll take awhile, maybe two or three years. Well, to me, two or three years is good news,” said Griffin.
“I think the message to the community is don’t give up hope,” Griffin added. “(Matthews) said she understood the community’s anxiety . . . she said she appreciates the project, the work that people are doing and that’s what we needed to hear.”
Solecki said “it takes a really long time to get these major hospital projects through each step, so it’s hard to be patient, but I’m confident our continued advocacy and the unwavering support of this community are the keys to its success.”
Ron Goldsmith, vice-chair of the Centre Grey Health Services Foundation, said he is heartened by the minister’s comments.
“It’s been six years now since we’ve had a minister give quite such clear support for the project,” Goldsmith said. “I think we’re taking this as quite a positive step. It’s true we don’t expect anything much to happen in the next two to three years. We’re actually taking this as much more positive than negative.”
Despite Matthews’ encouraging remarks, Hall warned that the community must remain solidly behind the hospital project despite the delays. He said he plans to go return to the ministry every year because the government does a year-by-year analysis of its spending priorities.
Goldsmith said continued strong community support also helps keep the project on the government’s radar.