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RVH unveils ambitious plans for new south-end hospital

'Today's hospital will not be the hospital of the future,' says official, noting RVH needs to double in size

As Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) prepares to build up and to the south, more than 200 staff members had a look at more detailed plans during an open forum at the Barrie hospital this afternoon.

"Today, the staff are getting to see what programs look like in terms of the buildings that need to be built," said RVH president and CEO Janice Skot.

And a big part of that is technology.

"Today's hospital will not be the hospital of the future," she said. 

The hospital boss said people are "very excited" to see some of the drawings and mock-ups. 

"One of our challenges as leaders is to manage expectations around timeframes," said Skot, adding working through the different processes can be "quite time-consuming as well."

Several placards also included various layout options for the work to be done at the main north-end campus, as well as a new campus in either south-end Barrie or neighbouring Innisfil, although where that could be located is yet undecided. 

With a population explosion expected in the next several years, RVH officials say the current facility on Georgian Drive in the city's north end needs to double in size to meet those needs.

RVH opened on the current site in 1997, but hospital officials say the 2012 expansion, which doubled the facility in size, didn't address all of their urgent priorities. 

The current 16-hectacre site on Georgian Drive is full, which is expected to result in vertical expansion. How many floors that could be ranges from 11 to 14, Skot said.

"With intensification, it's probably making better use of the footprint, as we're able to go up quite a bit higher," she said. 

It would also include multi-tier parking to accommodate not only more patients, but also for the additional staff who will be hired.

Expansion on Georgian Drive and the new south-end campus are being driven by explosive growth that is expected in the coming years. 

The populations in Barrie, Innisfil and Springwater Township are expected to almost double by 2041 with an additional 170,000 residents calling the area home. 

"Barrie's whole story around growth is really the growth of RVH, so we're just trying to keep pace with that," Skot said, adding she hopes a new building can be constructed at the Georgian Drive property in the next five years, as well as other buildings within the next decade. 

In recent years, several units have been added or expanded, which has led to RVH becoming cramped for space. 

"Today at RVH, unfortunately we're full everyday," Skot said. "We have patients in hallways, so even with today's population, we're not able to meet the needs. Therefore, we have to begin now with planning and seeking approval for hospital expansion here (on Georgian Drive) and in south Simcoe, because of the population growth."

The north-end hospital has been operating at more than 115 per cent at times, creating "critical" capacity challenges.

On Thursday, the province announced a $27-billion investment over the next 10 years in "essential" hospital infrastructure projects across the province, resulting in more than 3,000 new hospital beds. 

With the Ford government saying it wants to put an end to so-called 'hallway medicine,' Skot said she believes RVH's expansion plans should dovetail well with that idea. 

"We have had patients in our hallways, sometimes admitted and discharged from the hallway, so we're completely aligned with the government's strategy and their agenda," she said.

"By being able to present this comprehensive plan, with decades of growth being seen, we're going to be well-aligned with the government to seek approval and move forward."

Before any provincial approvals are given, hospitals are expected to undertake a rigorous planning process. 

There are currently three planning phases underway, including site selection for the future campus in south-end Barrie or Innisfil, a look at master programming to determine future services, and master planning to determine space and facility needs. 

Hospital officials have been consulting with thousands of staff, physicians, patients, families and residents over the past year. That allowed architects to develop several options, including a large inpatient tower on the current site.

"We know that the plan will be much better if the users at the front of the organization, those at the bedside providing the services, have a clear voice in the process," Skot said. "This is just one step today in a long journey of consultation.

"We're better together and the plan will be solid because of it," she added.

The master plan, outlining RVH's north-campus expansion needs, is expected to be submitted to the province later this year.  

Site selection continues on the future south-end site. A search was narrowed down from 47 to nine in a 225-square-kilometre radius of where RVH would like to have the south-end site located. Those sites are still being analyzed and a short list will be provide to the board of directors to consider. 

The south-end campus, which would be built in phases, could include an ambulatory care health hub within the next decade and a full-service, 46,452-sq.-m. hospital, with an emergency department and inpatient beds, in 20 years. 

"We are still looking at what the ideal site is," said Christopher Peters, project management lead at RVH. "We're looking not only at the need today, but 10, 20, 50 years in the future. We absolutely recognize that this building will still be here in 50 years.

"Basically, with the population in the south end especially, and Innisfil, there's also a great need for the north campus to grow," he added. 

The south campus will eventually be built using a graduated model.

This year, RVH will open its space inside the Rizzardo Health and Wellness Centre in Innisfil, with hopes of being into their own new building in the next five to 10 years.

"We're going to be able to take Innisfil residents off the highway," Skot said, "and provide them with services on an ambulatory basis right away. That was Step 1. In 2019, we're certainly hoping to have approval from the board of directors on the south campus location, so we're working through that, as well.

"At the same time, as you can see with the architests, is the physical plans, which we hope to present to the government by the end of 2019," Skot said, adding she also understands that taxpayer dollars must be spread around the province for various other projects, too. 

In 20 years, RVH officials foresee a fully fledged south-end hospital, including its own emergency department.

People are still being asked to weigh in by visiting the website. The survey remains open until May 9. 

Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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