The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury hosted a Virtual Community Town Hall meeting presented by Newmarket’s Southlake Regional Health Centre on Thursday evening to highlight the challenges the hospital has been facing over the decades, and how plans to upgrade the infrastructure and expand the building’s capacity and mobility levels will greatly improve the atmosphere and patient care.
It's no secret that Southlake has experienced exponential growth over the years and has been experiencing capacity issues. Southlake is one of the largest hospitals in Ontario with 550 beds, 3700 staff, and 630 physicians, but the building itself dates back to the 1960s and 1970s and many of the building’s systems and infrastructure require full upgrades.
“When I first joined Southlake almost four years ago, our bed base was around 380, so you can see even in the last four years we’ve grown a lot,” said Arden Krystal, president and CEO of Southlake.
Arden explained that Southlake often has the largest volume of hallway or “unconventional” beds in the Central Region with no capacity for future growth. It is estimated that 89 per cent more physical space is required to ‘right-size’ current units to contemporary standards just to maintain the current bed count alone (nevermind future growth).
“If we do squeeze in those extra beds… we’ve had to reconfigure spaces in pretty unique and creative ways to be able to fit those funded beds,” explained Arden. “We are literally full to the brim with no capacity for future growth – we are maxed out.”
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic presented many new challenges to the hospital that changed the normal way of doing business. A lot of services were shut down in 2020 and infection control became difficult due to ongoing issues the hospital was already facing before the pandemic.
To date, Southlake has not had any significant acute care capital expansions since 2003.
“During this last 18 months through Covid, we’ve suffered through two floods, a fire, and a major power outage,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things that happen in a facility that is aging; you end up spending more money than you want to just to keep the ship running – it sometimes feels like you’re using duct tape.”
John Marshman, Vice President Capital and Facilities & Business Development with Southlake Hospital outlined the dramatic growth experienced by communities the hospital has served over the decades (such as Newmarket, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, and Bradford West Gwillimbury) between 2001 and 2016.
“The overall growth in our core catchment communities significantly outpaced (the growth) of Ontario as a whole with 30 per cent for us versus 13 per cent for the province,” stated Marshman. “Bradford West Gwillimbury is the most market of all of these at nearly 60 per cent.”
In 2019, a master plan was developed with a series of clinical experts and in conjunction with community town hall presentations where local residents were asked what was important to them in regards to health care.
“The kinds of things we heard were very consistent between the communities which made it easier to develop the master plan,” shared Arden. “Once you know how big the new place needs to be, you can then look at your existing site and ask, will it fit? And that’s essentially what we did.”
The existing site for Southlake is just a little under 20 acres and Arden estimated they will need a bare minimum of 80-100 acres in order to develop a new campus.
“You never want to build on a site that’s only big enough for you today because you want to be able to add on as necessary,” she said. “Parking is another issue that is chronic problem in healthcare. We never build enough parking, so those are things that are important. Plus accessing the site – getting in and out with multiple access points so you don’t have traffic issues.”
Currently, a new site has yet to be determined as assessments still need to be completed, but Arden said a land donation could be an option for the new build.
“The new location has to be accessible to transportation routes. We need more access points for less wait time in emergencies,” she added.
This ‘two-side model’ was presented to the government in January of 2020, but then Covid hit which resulted in approval delays. Arden said now is the time to really advocate to ensure the treasury board considers the plan and allocate a sizeable planning grant to complete a phase 1 planning grant of the project.
“There’s a 10-year road map to get a hospital built. Every year we don’t get a planning grant is a year-loss,” she explained. “So, it’s really important we begin the planning now because it’s just absolutely critical. You’ve seen through the statistics how full we are now, just imagine what that’s going to be like in 10 years’ time.”
Lesley Ring, VP of Major Gifts and Campaigns with Southlake Foundation said the most critical need right now at Southlake is the mental health program and that as Covid lingers on, mental health is at the top of the mind, but a lack of space is heavily impacting the proper treatment for patients.
“For our mental health program, unfortunately, we can’t wait,” she says, sharing that in-patient units are sharing three people/beds to a room with over-crowded hallways. “These environments are outdated, they’re sub-standard, and where space is so integral to healing with mental health patients, it just doesn’t meet our needs.”
She adds that many people do not know their tax dollars do not fund all of health care needs and that healthcare is a ‘partnership’.
“It’s a partnership with our communities and with our government,” she explains. “As government funds are operational costs and a portion of our bills, we do have a local share and are dependent on the generosity of our communities that are wonderful champions of Southlake – we know that we can’t do it without those partnerships.”
Ring expands on the hospital’s plan to add 12 new beds by next December and the addition of an outdoor patio where patients and staff can retreat to for peace, dignity, and fresh air.
“Imagine, you’re a patient in our in-patient unit where the average is two-weeks but you can’t go outside, you can’t stretch your legs, you can’t get any fresh air. This new addition will add that outdoor space – our tax dollars don’t cover all of the costs of this work.”
Southlake Foundation's 'Better Begins Today' Campaign has already surpassed over 60 per cent of its goal to reach $7.5 million for these key pieces, with another $2.5 million more to raise to complete the projects.
“Southlake does an amazing job, but they desperately need a new, larger facility that’s centrally located near to Bradford and all the municipalities in our catchment area,” commented Bradford Councillor Jonathan Scott. “The preliminary plan to preserve the existing building on Davis Drive for seniors care, and to create a new regional hospital closer to Bradford make sense to me, especially when viewed in context with the proposed small satellite campus of Royal Victoria Hospital potentially in Innisfil. Our community needs healthcare services close to home.”
To learn more about this project, visit: www.anewsouthlake.ca
To learn more about Better Begins Today or to make a donation, visit: www.southlake.ca/better
Contact your MPP and voice your support/concerns about a new Southlake Hospital project.