Community support needed for medical centre upgrades

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GORE BAY – Gore Bay Medical Centre (GBMC) requires building upgrades and is seeking local funding support, as was also the case when the centre was first constructed in the mid-1980s. 

The initial GBMC fundraising ad-hoc committee meeting was held on April 1, with representatives from 11 communities from Billings Township west across Manitoulin Island in attendance. Three committee members were not in attendance at the meeting, which looked at the proposed renovations and how to gain local financial support.

Dr. Robert Hamilton, on behalf of Dr. Chantelle Wilson and Dr. Shelagh McRae, thanked representatives for stepping up and taking part. “The medical centre building has served us well since it was constructed in the mid-1980s. We need to update the access and security of the building,” he said. “As you all know, Dr. McRae and myself are eventually looking to retire. Upgrading the building could be significant in bringing an update and refresh to help recruiting our successors to work alongside Dr. Wilson.”

Gore Bay town clerk Stasia Carr noted the purpose of the first meeting was to get the ball rolling. “The needs to the clinic have changed (since the 1980s). There is some money for renovations the town has set aside but the project will require quite a bit more. Fundraising has to be dealt with.”

Mike Addison was on the original board for construction of the medical centre and worked on fundraising. “Western Manitoulin has to be the most giving community around,” he said. “It blew people away.”

“The entrances need to be reconfigured; as it stands, the back entrance is probably not compliant,” Dr. Hamilton said. “The building needs an accessible ramp to the sidewalk; the stairs are especially problematic for anyone with mobility issues or who use a wheelchair,” he explained. In addition to a reconfiguration of entrances, the waiting room could also be refreshed and reconfigured. Access to the dental office must be considered and updated entranceways are required for security issues.

“The security is not up to modern standards. Renovating the back entrance should fix that,” he said.

He noted these are all preliminary discussions and the building could end up looking quite different at the end than at the start. It took several interactions with architects and engineers to agree on something that worked.

“This has been an amazing building. Patients and staff need a successful approach to make the building safer and more accessible.”

Contemporary hospitals are designed for an approximately 40-year lifecycle. The GBMC was built about 35 years ago. “We’ve done well,” he said. 

“The building belongs to the town of Gore Bay and renovations have to be authorized by the town,” said Wayne Bailey. “I suspect we need three quotes for renovations. I know there are grants for accessibility so Gore Bay may pay for a large portion.”

Ms. Carr noted that the town had applied for different grants but the applications had been unsuccessful so far. 

“Accessibility is a very important issue,” Mr. Bailey said. “Through COVID-19 there are quite a few more grants available. Fundraising can’t proceed until we know how much.” He noted that first steps should include determining what the project will look like on paper and obtain quotes. “The cost of building materials is quite high.”

Cathy Bazinet, a nurse who lives in Meldrum Bay, suggested physician recruitment is something to look at. “I haven’t been to the medical centre. I’m looking at the bigger picture and what we have to offer,” she said. 

Mr. Addison pointed out that there is an Island-wide committee looking at doctor recruitment for Manitoulin and Ms. Carr agreed. “For Gore Bay and other locations on the Island. They’ve been successful with locum programs,” she said.

“This group has a slightly narrower focus on the medical centre and infrastructure,” said Dr. Hamilton. “One impacts on recruitment. My perspective is the current configuration is still adaptable enough for years to come. If you bring population growth into the discussion, we’re probably looking at a much bigger population. We’re looking at keeping the building attractive for, say 20 years, instead of a new building on a different site.”

There have been changes in how the hospitals operate and in-clinic has fallen significantly in the past year, he added. “There’s been more access to services without having to come to the clinic.”

“We need to take a modest approach that starts at the top and moves down,” Dr. Hamilton said. “For some doctors the draw is time and the ability to work part-time. In other places three physicians might have a staff of 30. We have to be careful.”

He noted that current trends show declining Northern Ontario populations through aging out and death. “This hasn’t been seen as much on Manitoulin because of the increase in First Nations populations. On the Island these cancel each other out. Sheshegwaning and Zhiibaahaasing are very small but growth in those First Nations will influence growth and will be 10 percent of the overall populations (we serve).”

Ms. Carr said both First Nation communities have indicated they will have representatives on the committee. 

“Dr. McRae and Dr. Hamilton have been medical resources for 35 to 40 years,” said Dr. Wilson. “There are excellent primary care services being developed for First Nations through Noojmowin Teg but I think (Sheshegwaning and Zhiibaahaasing members) will continue to access services in Gore Bay.”

Another consideration is licensing. The centre fell under Hospital Act regulations when it was built in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, clinics have been licensed under the Independent Health Facilities Act (IHFA). Dr. Hamilton believes that GBMC would have to reapply under the IHFA if it moved or leased another location. “It depends on ministry staff. They could also say Little Current and Mindemoya have x-rays so that wouldn’t be needed in Gore Bay,” Dr. Hamilton said.

He agreed with a comment by Dr. Wilson that it’s not just what physicians need but also what the community wants and needs. “It will also have an impact on the dental practice as well,” he said. Dr. Hamilton suggested an online poll to determine what people want.

Gore Bay Councillor Pauline Nodecker was unable to attend the initial meeting but had previously indicated willingness to serve as committee chair. A motion was passed in support of this. The next meeting of the ad-hoc committee is scheduled for May 3.