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Officials ecstatic as province announces new Groves hospital

by David Meyer

ABOYNE - They used words like “great” and “awesome” to describe the day, and there was no hiding the smiles by local officials when the provincial government announced the long-awaited approval of a new hospital in Centre Wellington.

The announcement came at the rest area and gazebo near the Wellington Terrace Home for the Aged, just a stone’s throw from where the new hospital will be located at Wellington Place.

Perth-Wellington MPP and Minister of Environment John Wilkinson said it is “a great day for Wellington County” and added it is a good one for “my friend Ted Arnott.”

Wilkinson said he was pleased to make the announcement because Groves officials and volunteers have proved their benefit to the community for years.

He said the provincial government will pay 90 per cent of the cost and the community will pay 10%, plus pay to equip the new hospital.

Wilkinson said the province has “set aside the money to move forward” with the new hospital at Wellington Place “on this beautiful campus, one of the most beautiful campuses in Ontario.”

Wilkinson said the next step in the project is to design the building and that will help determine the equipment needs. He said it is difficult for officials to raise money for such a project when people are not sure about the hospital receiving approval.

He added the delay was because Ontario has been building 18 hospitals over the past few years, and “You can’t build them all at once. There are only three companies in Ontario that can pre-qualify” for the work.

Wilkinson acknowledged Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Arnott “has been relentless in the legislature for a new hospital - both publicly and quietly.”

Wilkinson said Arnott convinced him to become an ally of the Groves project, and Arnott had also supported a Mount Forest project in Wilkinson’s riding that was also announced on Aug. 25.

Arnott could not control his enthusiasm, saying, “In my almost 21 years in the Ontario Legislature, other than my wedding day and the births of our boys - all of whom were born in the Groves Memorial Community Hospital, I might add - this is the best day of all.”

He thanked colleagues from his party and from the Liberal party for their support, as well as the Ministry of Health and staff there.

“As I’ve said many times, you can get more done in the legislature if you’re prepared to share the credit when something good happens,” Arnott said.

He added some people in the community felt the hospital would never get built because he was not a member of the governing party, and he took that as a challenge. He said several Ministers of Health took the time to listen to him and his tactics were wide ranging.

“At turns, I would ask, plead, kick, cajole, shout, flatter, grovel, yell, beg - whatever approach seemed to be the most appropriate at the time,” Arnott said.

Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said wherever she went in the township, people would ask her what is going on with the hospital.

“I just can’t thank you enough for this announcement,” she said, adding, “The shovel is ready to go. Let’s push forward and get that shovel in the ground.”

It could take some time for that. The design comes first, and Wilkinson said in an interview the hospital will likely be completed in 2016.

Hospital board chairman Gord Feniak said it has been 10 years since the hospital board recognized the need for a new hospital. He thanked the staff at the hospital for “providing 21st century care in a 20th century facility.”

Groves Hospital Foundation board chairman Jackie Ranahan thanked the community for its generosity. She noted that since the board decided the hospital needed work and began fundraising in 2002 for a renovation project, the community has raised $18 million in cash and pledges.

County Warden Chris White called it “an historic day” and said the new hospital will provide “great 21st century medical care right in the heart of the county. The hospital will be a centrepiece for the county [lands at Wellington Place].”

Dr. Patrick Otto, the Groves chief of staff, said there is “exhilaration from the medical staff” and “perhaps disbelief.”

He remembered how he and his family moved to Fergus. “We came for one year to see how it would go.” That was “28 years ago,” he quipped.

Otto said the teamwork in the community is amazing, and so is the teamwork amongst the hospital staff, which he said, “is superior to what you will find elsewhere. I’ve seen our medical staff just bloom ... I believe we teach better than any other institution in the province.”

He added to Wilkinson, “When you build this new hospital, Mr. Minister ... you will find this will be a stellar, stellar institution. I can’t thank you enough.”

Wilkinson was reluctant to put a cost to a new hospital. He said in an interview after the announcement the government would prefer not to let the companies know projected costs. Plus, with the building still not designed, nobody knows exactly what it the final cost will be. Some estimates from nearly four years ago ranged from $60 to $65 million.

Groves’ chief executive officer Jerome Quenneville said in an interview the plan is to start construction in 2014 and, “There’s a lot of work to be done. Construction takes about two years.” He added the public will probably be consulted about decisions before the work is done.

“I’m sure there’ll be more consultation with the community as we move forward,” he said, noting the zoning and site plans are yet to be approved and the zoning will require a public meeting.

For Arnott, the work for hospitals in his riding is not yet completed.

He said he was making a particularly big push for Groves because, as of Sept. 7 when the provincial election officially starts, there can be no further funding announcements by the government. Consequently, he pushed hard to get the announcement prior to the start of that campaign.

And, he noted, he is still advocating for the hospital in Georgetown, which needs renovations and a CT scanner. He wants government help for both of those projects before time runs out and the election delays any action for two months.

“I’m going to work every day,” he said of that project.

Provincial Liberal candidate for Wellington-Halton Hills, Moya Johnson, who lives in that part of the riding, was present for the announcement, which had been kept very quiet by provincial officials.

She said in a statement she is pleased a new greenfield facility will replace an aging facility and that the province proposes to develop Groves Memorial Community Hospital as a “centre of excellence” in rural health care.

“I was delighted to hear the news today,” said Johnson. “I’ve spent over 30 years as a nurse ... This investment is crucial to the people of Fergus and the riding of Wellington-Halton Hills.”


September 2, 2011


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