Dionne happy with hospital, but won’t be satisfied until shovels hit the ground

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne speaks at the announcement for the new Prince Albert Hospital on March 6, 2020. (Peter Lozinski)

Friday may have been a day Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne spent seven years waiting for, but he’s not breathing a sigh of relief yet.

Dionne campaigned on bringing a new hospital to Prince Albert. During Friday’s announcement, Premier Scott Moe said that not a single meeting went by where Dionne didn’t advocate for the project.

While Moe’s announcement Friday that the project will feature expansion and renovation to the tune of over $300 million, including a brand new wing and 40 per cent more capacity was a sign the hospital would be built, Dionne isn’t ready to rest quite yet.

“I ran on building a new hospital, so it’s exciting for me. I won’t calm down until I see the shovel in the ground.”

Moe, similarly called Friday a good day for Prince Albert. He said the day the hospital opens will be a great one.

“We have heard you and we are taking action,” the premier said.

“Our government is absolutely thrilled and pleased to be here to make this commitment.”

Dionne said it was a “proud day” for the city. He thanked the provincial government for their commitment.

He also talked about the new multiplex, a project announced last September as a partnership between the local, provincial and federal governments. Prince Albert has to contribute about $15 million to that project. It also has to fund the furnishings and equipment of the new hospital, as is standard in all government-funded builds.

“We have another challenge,” Dionne said. “Our community is going to have to come together and raise the money for the furnishings.”

Dionne said that while there is work ahead, this announcement is part of a new chapter for Prince Albert.

“Look at the construction jobs the new hospital will bring, the construction jobs the new multiplex will bring. We’ve been on the edge of a boom for a long time and I believe the boom is here,” he said.

“We have great economic things happening all around us. We have Rio Tinto that continues to exercise their option on the diamonds north of us. We have a great partnership with the (Prince Albert) Grand Council who brings economic development. It’s all of us together for one. It’s going to bring us all together and make us a stronger community.”

Dionne wasn’t the only one who was excited about what the future holds. Victoria Hospital Foundation CEO Sherry Buckler said her organization is ready to do what it takes to bring the inside of this new hospital to life.

“We are thrilled. It’s a wonderful day for Prince Albert and northern Saskatchewan,” she said.

“Our foundation knew this announcement was coming. We’ve been preparing for it. We’re looking forward to the request from the government for support.”

Any fundraising won’t begin until that request for support comes through. However, as the province doesn’t have an exact dollar amount the project is expected to cost or exact specifications as to what the hospital will look like, it’s too early to tell how much will need to be raised to furnish the facility.

When the time comes, Buckler said, the foundation will be ready to play their part.

In his comments, Moe seemed to indicate a future role for the hospital foundation to play when that campaign kicks off.

“I want to thank the Victoria Hospital Foundation who I know will be busy raising money for furnishings and equipment for this facility,” he said during his speech. Buckler echoed those remarks.

I was speaking with (the province) today and they’re excited to work with us. We’re excited to work with them and all of our donors and community members.

Engagement detailed and ongoing

One topic that also came up frequently Friday was engagement. Moe and Reiter said engagement into what a new hospital would look like involved consulting with doctors, nurses and other staff members, patients and their families.

The Victoria Hospital Foundation and Buckler got to be a part of that process too. Buckler said she’s pleased her organization has had a seat at that table.

“It’s nice to see them include every stakeholder in the community,” she said.

That includes the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC)

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte was at the announcement Friday to speak to his role in the project.

“The 12 First Nations of the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) look forward to a hospital that will be comfortable, culturally inviting and culturally responsive to the needs of all First Nation membership and communities,” Hardlotte said.

“This will be a hospital First Nations will have pride of ownership in because of our considerable involvement with the Government of Saskatchewan, helping create a hospital that is truly healing for all.”

He said that will mean spaces for traditional Indigenous ceremonies, such as smudging, will be included. His organization will continue to be involved in discussions about design and construction.

He called the process “true reconciliation.”

Hospital should improve access to health care for Prince Albert area residents

It’s not common that the NDP and Saskatchewan Party agree, but MLAs on both sides of the aisle welcomed the news that the long-awaited hospital expansion was a go.

Ryan Meili answered questions in Saskatoon, where he was asked about the dollar amount for the P.A. project.

He said he supported a provincially-funded hospital for Prince Albert.

Prince Albert-Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt was of a similar mind. In a public Facebook post, she thanked the city for keeping the pressure on the provincial government.

“Thank you to our citizens and our leaders who have worked so hard for so many years toward the dream of a hospital that would serve Prince Albert, as well as rural and northern Saskatchewan,” she wrote.

“The dedication of Prince Albert people and our leaders has paid off with the announcement of an expanded and renovated hospital. Give yourselves a pat on the back for pressuring the Government of Saskatchewan to deliver to our community.”

Moe thanked Rancourt and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave, as well as former Prince Albert Parkland Health Authority chairs, the mayor and others for keeping the pressure on.

Everywhere he went, Moe said, “one topic that comes up and comes up often is the need for a new hospital in the city of Prince Albert. That message has been sent loud and clear, and it’s been sent consistently for years now.”

Dionne emphasized that Prince Albert has a trade area of 190,000 people. He said the city serves itself, the north and the surrounding rural areas. Both Reiter and Moe acknowledged that the facility is more than just a regional hospital.

“We don’t just serve the 40,000 who are here,” Dionne said. “We serve everyone north of that bridge.”

He praised the expanded size, scope and services the new facility would bring.

“I won’t bring it up, but transportation is another issue, to get to… appointments (in Saskatoon),” he said.

“The more we can get here, the better for our community.”