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Newmarket residents weigh in on Southlake hospital expansion

At a public meeting, many residents said they want their local hospital to stay local, even if that means building upward and moving some health-care services off-site
Oct. 9, 2019
Kim Champion

Newmarket residents want their local hospital to stay local, and if that means building upward and moving some health-care services off-site, then so be it.

That’s what the Southlake Regional Health Service team heard last night from a majority of residents at a public meeting at Old Town Hall about the expansion options officials say the health-care facility will need to meet the demands of its growing regional population.

For example, within the next 10 years, Southlake will need to increase capacity from its current 429 beds to 620. Fast forward 20 years down the road, and 843 beds will be needed. Thirty years from now, hospital officials say demand will nearly double, to 1,092 beds.

Queen Street resident Lynnette Harris, whose home is within walking distance of Southlake, believes the local hospital is an important part of the community and should stay in its current location surrounded by residential neighbourhoods.

Harris was brought to tears several times over the years after receiving anonymous gifts from individuals who either drove or walked by her home during Christmas after visiting loved ones in the hospital.

The resident decorates her home each year in many bright white lights that stand out on her downtown street. She came home one day after work to find a card tucked inside her door from a stranger.

“I started crying when I got that last year, and everyone I showed that to, we all started crying and it was so sad,” Harris said. “The card said, ‘I just want to tell you how happy your house makes me. My husband is dying of cancer, I sit with him all day, and it’s really sad. And I come out and I drive home along Queen Street and I see your house and it puts a smile on my face’.”

“I thought, that just made my day,” she said.

The Southlake team presented four options for residents to consider that included building a new hospital from scratch elsewhere on vacant land, redeveloping the existing site as an ambulatory centre and move acute care services to a new location, move ambulatory services to a new location and focus the existing site on acute care services, and keep all existing services at the Davis Drive hospital location.

Illustrations were presented on what each of those options would look like and, given the physical constraints at Southlake’s current location, the hospital would have to grow up. In certain scenarios, that could mean adding nine or 11 storeys.

Residents raised concerns about parking, the expansion encroaching into nearby residential neighbourhoods, the domino effect on other health-care services and providers if the hospital leaves town, travel time for families if services are relocated out of Newmarket, and wasted taxpayers’ money on rapid transit in the area if the hospital moves to another community.

“When we’re developing these ideas, it’s about the hospital giving back to the community,” HDR Architects health director Barbara Miszkiel said.

Miszkiel said that one of the expansion options under consideration, for example, would involve building over the watercourse on the hospital site.

“We’ve been looking at that whole creekside, and how to develop that and use it as an amenity space,” she said. “We’ve done that in other hospitals where you can straddle a space that you can’t build on. Imagine if you have all those in-patient beds overlooking that outdoor space on the creek and you turn a constraint into something that is positive.”

The team has already met with the local conservation authority and it is on board with the watercourse idea, Miszkiel said.

A series of public meetings are scheduled over the coming months on Southlake’s expansion to present ideas to the public and collect feedback. Check here for more information.

In the meantime, Southlake is currently at the first of a six-year stage process that could take up to two years to go through.

“Following that, and factoring in that just two weeks ago the Health Ministry just put out its next 10-year list of projects that are already in queue, arguably, it’s a 10 to 15-year journey,” said Rick Gowrie, Southlake Regional Health Centre vice-president of capital, facilities, and business development.

Bradford residents will have a chance to give their input on the expansion tonight at the open forum at the BWG Library at 425 Holland St. West from 7- 9 p.m.