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By Brock Weir
The future of Stevenson Memorial Hospital was in sharp focus on the second week of the Provincial election campaign.
On the heels of an announcement from Simcoe-Grey Progressive Conservative candidate Jim Wilson calling for further Provincial assistance for Stevenson and other hospitals in the riding, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne toured the hospital on Friday afternoon, accompanied by her candidate for the riding Dan Hambly.
“I was born at Stevenson Memorial, and so it occupies a very important part of my own personal history,” said Hambly. “If I am elected, I will work extremely hard to see its redevelopment. I strongly believe that the people of Simcoe Grey deserve access to the highest-quality health care and the hospital redevelopment projects here in Alliston and Collingwood are priorities for me.”
The Liberal plan, he said, offers $17 billion over four years to provide better and faster access to mental health and addiction services, improving hospitals like Stevenson by providing better access to care, reducing wait times, addressing capacity issues, and better meeting the needs of Ontario's growing and aging population.
During her visit to the hospital, Ms. Wynne was joined not only by Mr. Hambly, but also by Stevenson CEO Jody Levac and New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne, who said he was ready to make his pitch to the party leader.
“What we want to bring to her attention is we need a new hospital,” the Mayor told The Times. “We're so crowded here: staff is crowded, our emergency department is so overcrowded that we need a new hospital and we need help. We're hoping the Premier will look at that – not only Stevenson Memorial Hospital, but also the Collingwood hospital, which is in dire straits too.”
Investments have been made in hospitals in Orangeville, Newmarket and Barrie, but New Tecumseth is in a “rural area” and service is needed close to home, the Mayor added. There is momentum behind efforts towards a new hospital, he said, and volunteers are working hard to raise the non-provincial capital required to make a new hospital happen.
During her visit to the hospital Ms. Wynne met with hospital staff, long-standing volunteers, and young families in the neo-natal unit.
“We all have a vision of where this place needs to get for the community,” one staff member told Ms. Wynne. “We don't want to be a Southlake Regional Health Centre; we want to be a top-notch community hospital and there are things we can do here to keep people closer to home.”
These were views echoed by patients as well, with one mother telling Ms. Wynne, “This community is expanding. Health care is so important to the new families coming in and we know space is an issue, so we want to make sure this hospital is a focus.”
Ms. Wynne replied, “We are working very closely with the hospital. We have allocated funding, so it is going forward. We know that the need is here and we should see progress soon.”
For Mr. Wilson, however, there is a significant shortfall.
If re-elected, he said he would push the government to release full planning grants needed for the redevelopment of both hospitals. Despite the government announcing it was giving each hospital $500,000 for planning costs, the money isn't there yet.
“Half a million doesn't go very far when the total cost is $14 million,” said Mr. Wilson. “Everybody should also know the cheques have not been delivered to either hospital yet. The hospitals are using their own money to fund these planning costs. That is money that should be used for front-line services. I will do my very best to secure the $14 million planning grant each hospital needs to get through the five-stage planning process if I'm re-elected. I believe I am the candidate best positioned to deliver this commitment. I am not going to quit until these two hospitals are built and the future of health care in the riding is secured.”
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