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'It's going to take all of us': Southlake pitches new hospital to Newmarket citizens

With timeline of 10 years to build a new facility, provincial approval and funding to begin planning is crucial now, CEO says

Southlake Regional Health Centre showcased its future to Newmarket residents as it drums up support for a new hospital.

The Newmarket hospital held a virtual town hall in partnership with the Town of Newmarket Aug. 10 to highlight its planning for a new facility, emphasizing the need for expansion due to regional growth and current overcrowding.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said an expansion is critical, and encouraged residents to speak out and connect with Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Health Minister Christine Elliott about the need for a new hospital.

“It’s going to take all of us,” Taylor said. 

“Southlake is our community’s greatest asset,” he said. “But like any great asset, whether it’s a community centre or your own home, you have to continually invest in it to make sure it’s able to perform.” 

Last night's town hall was one in a series being held for residents in the northern York Region and south Simcoe County communities served by Southlake.

While receiving provincial funding for early expansion planning now is crucial, the timeline for a new hospital opening is at least 10 years, according to Southlake president and CEO Arden Krystal. 

Krystal detailed the strain the hospital currently faces. Without any capital expansion since 2003, the demand it faces has increased dramatically between 2003/04 and 20019/20. Although it has increased its beds by 31 per cent (362 to 474), emergency department visits have increased 91 per cent (57,004 to 111,885), along with a 28 per cent increase in inpatient surgeries.

This is principally being driven by a population increase, with the Southlake catchment area growing by more than 30 per cent between 2001 and 2016 — that trend is expected to continue. The combination has led Southlake to have the highest medical/surge occupancy out of 21 peer hospitals, and a high volume of hallway beds, Krystal said.

“We have crammed a significantly high amount of beds into the existing space that we have. It’s unbelievable how much we have tried to maximize every last inch of this building,” Krystal said.

READ MORE: Southlake at Capacity: Hallway health care routine in 'chaotic' emergency department

The hospital is planning to expand to a nearby area, but has yet to find a suitable location. Krystal said the current parcel only has about 20 acres left to expand, far lower than the 75 to 100 acres needed to accommodate the organization. As such, they will seek new parcels in the area to do the build. 

She said the new site would focus on specialized medicine and acute care, while the current site would be for ambulatory outpatients and urgent care.

Taylor said residents should not be concerned if the new location is at the edge of Newmarket or outside of it.

“The bottom line is it’s going to be relatively close and it has to expand. We have to provide greater service,” Taylor said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the town hall, several anonymous participants questioned Newmarket’s continued growth given the strain it places on critically needed services like health care.

"To relieve the pressure on the hospitals, York Region including Newmarket needs to turn the tap off on new development,” one commenter wrote.

READ MORE: Housing affordability emerges as key concern in York Region's plan for growth

Taylor responded that growth brings needed amenities, facilities and services, including Southlake, and is a key part of the argument to the province to make the expansion happen. He said it is not necessarily possible to stop people from coming into the area.

“We can’t put our heads in the sand. We have to plan for a reasonable amount of growth,” Taylor said. “We have to meet the challenge head on.” 

The province of Ontario has mandated that Newmarket meets certain growth targets — however, it's among the slowest growth rate in the region, he added.

Another person asked why it takes about 10 years to build a hospital.needs to be 10 years, with Krystal responding, “It is very, very intricate and complicated work to plan a hospital. But it is one of the reasons it is so important for us to advocate now. To get the planning dollars and get on that 10-year list.” 

Krystal encouraged people to get involved by contacting their MPP to join the call for a new Southlake.