Construction is underway on a parking lot at Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital – the first step of a larger project to expand health care services for northern Saskatchewan.
The expansion will include a new acute care tower, replacing the adult mental health unit, a larger emergency department, a helipad and further medical imaging services.
“This is something that is needed,” said Health Minister Paul Merriman at a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday.
Merriman said the improvements will allow patients to receive more care in their home communities, or closer to them. He said families have already seen that effect with the new neo-natal intensive care unit, which opened last year.
Mayor Greg Dionne said the city provides services to about 190,000 people. That number is based on market studies.
“People think it’s just for us – it’s not. This hospital is being built for us and the north,” he said.
“It’s so frustrating for us when we have somebody say ‘Can we go here to see them?’ and (we) say ‘Sorry, they got transferred to Saskatoon,’ because of course part of your healing is being around your family and friends.”
The expanded hospital will see a 40 per cent increase in beds from 173 to 242.
It will also draw around 500 new employees, explained Dionne, which will boost the city’s economy.
New construction projects in Prince Albert cost $1.2 billion. This includes 160 new apartment buildings next to the hospital, which the city hasn’t seen in 25 years, according to Dionne.
“This project behind me kickstarted it…That’s why we’re growing,” he said.
“When they come and they bring their families and they look around and (say) ‘Boy, you have a soccer centre, you have a performing arts centre, new rinks, new pools. Because that’s an important part of the hospital, is the amenities.”
The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) has been working with the provincial government and the city to bring the expanded hospital to life.
Shirley Woods, director of health and social development, said it’s not about the building itself.
“Our real concern is what goes on within that building,” she said.
“It’s really important that when our membership comes to the hospital that they feel that this is theirs. We know that when there’s ownership that people are more likely to feel comfortable to be involved in their care.”
Woods said the improvements will include spaces for Indigenous practices on every floor.
“We want to look at the P.A. Grand Council as our advisors in this community,” added Merriman.
“We want to make sure that is number one as far as us looking at how we integrate our systems that are going to be friendly for everybody coming into the hospital, the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous people.”
The parking lot will be pushed towards the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse to make room for the expansion. This parking lot will be for visitors and staff.
Merriman said construction will begin on the rest of the expansion in about a year.
Correction: A previous version of this story said construction is underway on a parkade, rather than a parking lot. The Herald apologizes for the error.