Hospital ask for $9 million – gets $22.5 million. Says, thank you and will have a site plans ready by the end of May.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON   April 14, 2012  We don’t know if the cheque just arrived in the mail or if hospital CEO Eric Vandewall got a phone call telling him to slip into Toronto and pick it  – what we do know is that the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital now has $22.5 million to spend on the redevelopment plan.

The hospital had previously been given $1.5 million, which in the hospital building business is truly “chump change”.  The hospital had asked for an additional $9 million for design purposes about 6-8 months ago but learned on Friday that the $22.5 million to cover the total cost of planning and design was on the way.  For a provincial government that is close to broke, this is truly astounding – but no one in this city is going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The hospital will become a site that looks out over the lake rather than have its back to the water. It will look a lot different and be a lot different when construction is completed. Funds for the next phase are now in hand.

With these funds in hand the close to intense conversations between the city and the hospital might become a little more relaxed.  Burlington had committed itself to raising $60 million as its share of the cost of redeveloping a building that was long past its  best before date.  The definitive agreement between the city and the hospital had yet to be defined and the hospital needed funds to pay the people doing all the prep work that has to be done before construction actually starts.

Mayor Rick Goldring has had intensive conversations with provincial minister of agriculture, Ted McMeekin, who has served as Burlington’s link to the provincial government.  There have been detailed conversations with the minister of infrastructure Bob Chiarelli and conference calls with Deb Matthews, the minister of health and long term care.  Burlington has had to go to its taxpayers and add to their tax bill to save up the $60 million it was told it had to come up with.  Goldring felt he had to be absolutely sure the hospital re-development was not going to be cancelled.  He wasn’t prepared to rely on what he was hearing from the hospital’s leadership.

The city felt it didn’t know enough about just what the funds were going to be used for – at one point all they knew was that a parking garage had to be built so that there was a place to put cars that were now in the parking lot – which is the land the hospital was going to be built on.

The expected view of the JBMH expansion seen looking from the east.

The city was not comfortable with the working arrangement with the hospital and was looking for an alignment of that would serve the interest of the people of Burlington more effectively.  They aren’t there yet.

No one is exactly sure where the $22.5 million came from.  The view out of city hall is that these funds are basically an advance that will convey to the people of Burlington that the province is serious about this re-development.  And serious they should be – JBMH is a hospital in trouble and in very, very bad shape.  It apparently does not have the capacity to effectively quarantine anyone should such a situation arise.  It is just a very old hospital that has to be redeveloped.

All hospitals are required to have their accreditations  certified regularly.  JBMH has said nothing in the past two years about its various certifications being in order.  Bureaucrats tend to beat their own drums when they have the least thing positive to say.  This hospital has certainly had its challenges and significant crisis in the past.  When Vandewall was appointed there was a major house cleaning of senior people on the medical side.  Cleaning a wound, and make no mistake about this, JBMH was a very wounded institution, is just the first step.  Now the institution has to be nursed back to health.  It will take time.

It was a sunny summer day and a provincial government minister was on her way to Burlington with what everyone thought was going to be a cheque for the hospital in her purse. She didn't arrive - then there was an election and that Minister lost her seat - still no money. But the cheque did arrive on Friday and the smile hospital CEO Eric Vandewall was wearing this sunny summer day, is the smile he is wearing today. These things take time.

Lurking in the background of all this was an announcement, that hadn’t been made that McMaster wanted to put their Family Medicine Practice in that “parking lot” building which certainly changed that picture.  Along with the Halton McMaster Family Medicine Practice would go the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital Foundation’s offices.   What we were now looking at was a large building that was much more than a place to park cars.

Vandewall now has the funds he needs to get the place to the point where the tender can be issued, then awarded and construction can begin.  In the meantime Burlington will continue to set aside funds so that it can meet its obligation when the time comes to pay for the construction.  And the hospital can now ramp up its fund raising efforts and come up with its $60.  Burlington has $8 million sitting in its back account.

The city does not expect to have to turn over any funds until the 2014 fiscal year.  By that time a new funds flow schedule will be in place and the city can plan for its capital spending.

While no one knows exactly where the money came from and what kind of an agreement came with it – everyone believes these are real dollars that can be spent. Might be a good idea however to get the cheque certified when it is in hand.  What if Andrea pulls the plug before the end of the month and plunges us into another election.  Is that why the money just arrived?


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