There is no question that Premier Brad Wall was righting a wrong foisted upon rural Saskatchewan 19 years ago, although there is some question as to who should ultimately be held responsible for that wrong.
Wall announced last week a new 200,000 square-foot surgical and outpatient centre for Southern Saskatchewan to be built in the shadows of the old Plains Hospital — now the Regina campus for SIAST.
The new facility isn’t quite a hospital in that it will not provide emergency care for Regina and southern Saskatchewan residents. That will still be the roles of the Pasqua and General Hospital in the city’s downtown and core areas. But what it will provide is an impressive array of day surgeries, diagnostic imaging, pharmacy services, rehabilitation, outpatient cancer care and just about every other medical service that does not require an overnight stay.
There is even some consideration of using the area as the landing pad for the STARS helicopter service simply because the location is safer for the aircraft.
The roughly $50- to $60-million project will be built using the principles of the government’s LEAN efficiency model to make it as operationally efficient as possible, Wall explained. It will add five to six operating theatres for the Regina-Qu’Appelle Health Region. And while all will be considered public facilities, Wall acknowledged his government is open to all options including renting out surgical theatre space to private clinics that would be paid through the health system.
Half the building costs for this project will come from the provincial government and the other half will come from the Hospitals of Regina Foundation that will immediately embark on fund-raising for project.
Wall also stressed the benefits of its location, including the fact that it is being built on Crown land compared with the current Regina hospitals that would require the purchase of expensive private property for any expansion.
In its location south of the Trans-Canada Highway, the hospital will offer easier access for people coming in from out of town. Moreover, there will not be same parking problems that now exist around the General and Pasqua Hospitals — both of which will experience a significant easing of pressure on their facilities with the outpatient cancer and day-surgery components being removed from their responsibilities.
In fact, Wall’s announcement often took on a political tone as the Premier repeatedly pointed out the benefit of the new facility’s location (one of the foremost arguments given for not closing the Plains hospital in 1993) and scolded the then NDP-Romanow government for its decision to close it.
This does raise question of whose wrong Brad Wall was really righting.
Yes, it was the NDP government that opted to close the Plains — something that seemed a particularly bad choice given the over-budget, $100-million cost of renovating the General Hospital and all the other stresses that have been added to the city’s two remaining hospitals in the past two decades.
But while the NDP has been rightfully criticized for this decision, it has to be noted that it was a decision made in the context of the near-bankruptcy the province faced as a result of the billion dollars a year the former Progressive Conservative government racked up in debt.
That politics aside, however, this is good news for everyone including people throughout southern rural Saskatchewan.
It doesn’t make up for the closure of 52 rural hospitals. Frankly, it doesn’t even make up for closure of the old Plains Hospital.
But in two years or so southern Saskatchewan will what should be an excellent, more accessible, efficient facility that will better meet the needs of both rural and city folks needing health care.
And that it surely does right some past wrongs.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.