Whitby Mayor wants province to stop influence on future hospital site from “developer interests”

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Published March 23, 2023 at 6:32 pm

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy is demanding the provincial government put a stop to political and developer influence in the site selection of a new hospital in Durham and “immediately” release a promised $3 million planning grant to move the project forward.

“I am extremely disappointed that Ontario’s 2023 Budget released today does not include the planning grant required to support a new hospital in Durham Region. This is completely unacceptable,” the Mayor said Thursday afternoon following the release of the document. “This is now the second provincial budget to be tabled without funding for this grant.”

More than a year has passed since Lakeridge Health announced an independent, expert panel had selected a site in Whitby as the preferred location for a proposed hospital in Durham. Since then, progress has stalled.

A site in Pickering was rejected by the panel for its proximity to the Carruthers Creek watershed but the City got back into game recently when a group of developers donated the land for the Pickering hospital preferred site near Salem Road and Hwy 407 for free.

“We cannot allow the location of this new hospital to be influenced by politics or developer interests,” Roy said. “We also cannot allow this process to be delayed any further.”

The winning bid, for a site near Lakeridge Road and Hwy 407 on lands currently owned by the provincial transportation ministry, was announced more than 14 months ago. The ministry has agreed to sell the 50-acre site at market value to the Town of Whitby, provided the province agrees to fund the new hospital there.

“Whitby was chosen because it is centrally located in Durham near major highways and roadways, offering quick access from any direction so that those who need critical care can get it fast,” Roy said. “This location in the heart of the region will be critically important for trauma services and will bring care closer to home for residents from across Durham. Our residents can’t wait any longer for this project to move ahead.”

Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy

Roy said prior to the budget’s release she was “hopeful” there would no political interference going on with politicians who have the Premier’s ear – Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe is a former Conservative candidate and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy (the author of the budget) – is also his MPP – but was not brimming with confidence the planning grant would be in the budget.

“The reason we had the ‘independent’ process was to make sure there was no political interference,” she said, adding that the Province needs to “confirm support” for a new hospital in Whitby.

The budget also did not include an important planning grant for mental health services for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, she noted. “Our region is rapidly growing, and Durham is being left behind in terms of health care support. “

Ashe, for his part, claims the process in selecting the site, deliberately performed by hospital CEOs and health care leaders from outside Durham to avoid any political interference, was not “fair and transparent” because it was done by people outside of Durham Region.

The provincial budget was chock-full of support for other areas of health care with the government boosting funding for hospitals, pediatric care, mental health and home care as part of its efforts to reform health care in the province.

The provincial budget released Thursday detailed an $850 million increase in funding to hospitals – a four per cent boost in base funding – plus $200 million to address health care staffing shortages across the entire system.

“Now it’s the time to pivot to make sure we have investments, long-term sustainable investments, in our health-care system,” said Bethlenfalvy. The province plans to invest more than $15 billion in new funding over the next three years on health care, he added.

The province said it will accelerate $1 billion it pledged over three years for home care in the last budget. Home Care Ontario had been asking the province to release more of that money, saying only $120 million had been rolled out in the first year.

Ontario will send out $569 million for home care in the 2023-24 fiscal year. Some $300 million of that will be spent on “contract rate increases to stabilize the home and community care workforce,” Bethlenfalvy said.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy

The province has also designated all of the $4.4 billion contained in the soon-to-be-signed health-care deal with the federal government. About $200 million of that federal cash will be spent on pediatric care, which includes money to address surgical and diagnostic backlogs.

One way – albeit a controversial way – Queen’s Park is addressing the backlog is the farming out of some publicly-funded surgeries from hospitals to clinics, particularly for cataract operations and hip and knee replacements, as the government tries to clear the massive surgical backlog.

The budget said Ontario will spend $72 million this year on those clinics, some of which are private, for-profit centres.

Bethlenfalvy said the government has also set aside more money to work with front-line health-care workers to identify other needs.

With files from Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

 

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