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Provincial funding to remain at 70 per cent: Smitherman

The Ontario government will not provide more than 70 per cent of the cost of the new North Bay Regional Regional Health Care Centre," Health Minister George Smitherman said Sunday.

The Ontario government will not provide more than 70 per cent of the cost of the new North Bay Regional Regional Health Care Centre," Health Minister George Smitherman said Sunday.

But East Ferris Mayor Bill Vrebosch says he wants a commitment from all the municipalities responsible for the remaining 30 per cent before he brings his community back in to help fund the project.

Smitherman was in North Bay Sunday to meet with area mayors and hospital representatives to hear their concerns and review the project's progress thus far.

While Smitherman’s visit to the city was not to make any announcements he felt it necessary to come to the Bay to restate the province’s commitment toward seeing the hospital move forward.

“The local community has done an extraordinary and effective job at building a proposal that is worthy of support,” said Smitherman, “and that as the Minister of Health what I was encouraging them to do was to remain confidant on the proposal and project that they have developed to date.”

Smitherman was also quick to defend the province's recent decision to provide 80 per cent funding to new hospitals in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

“The regional hospitals in Thunder Bay and Sudbury provide an extensive amount of their care especially in cardiac, cancer and trauma care to residents all across the entire region," Smitherman said.

Those special responsibilities "drive the cost of their projects up," Smitherman said, and that's why the province felt compelled "to enhance" the funding percentages, "for the benefit of all Northerners."

Smitherman went on to say that because residents including those from North Bay seek a considerable amount of service in Sudbury the government moved to provide a higher portion of funding in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.

“That’s the reality of the regional hospital role, that the Sudbury hospital and Thunder Bay hospital are built to a bigger size than the local communities require because they provide support to people all over the region.”

Smitherman also stated that the goal of the government is to enhance the quality of health care in Northern Ontario.

“We can’t do that if the two regional hospitals which provide cancer, cardiac and trauma surgery services to everybody aren’t able to function properly, and that was the decision point.”

As for the decision of East Ferris township to pull out of helping to fund the project , Smitherman said he heard Vrebosch’s frustration.

“What we came to find is that quite a lot of it stems from the fact that not all of the local communities are participating. And that by the end of the discussion, we were focused on what we could possibly do as a group because this is a partnership on this hospital," Smitherman said.

"The province is in there in a significant way as to what can we do as a group to try and entice more support from those smaller communities whose residents are going to be served at the new North Bay hospital.”

Vrebosch said that it is "important" for everyone to know that East Ferris is not against the Sudbury or Thunder Bay deals as his community recognizes that their residents receive service in Sudbury.

“What I am concerned about is that the scope of this hospital has been reduced to something less then regional. And I really do think the region of North Eastern Ontario is equal and I think we deserve the same funding,” Vrebosch said.

The other issue that is a hot topic for Vrebosch is who is contributing to the project and the East Ferris wants a commitment from the rest of the communities.

“I was told today that my municipal responsibility would be to be a leader and we pay a fund and draw the others in, well I also have a leadership to say that if the other guys aren’t paying why should I," Vrebosch said.

"I don’t mean it to be negative because it is not negative. East Ferris is committed to this hospital, we know the value of it, but we want to pay what is our fair share not an extra share.”

Vrebosch would like to see Smitherman enact a law that would require all the stakeholders to pay.

“He can come up with an act in parliament that says if you’re in a catchment area for a hospital and it is decided upon. And he comes up with a formula that says 'okay it’s going to be legislated to you and this is going to be your portion and get ready for it,'” Vrebosch said.

"I don't think I should be the only one who pays."

Smitherman then talked about the move to bring the Ontario Psychiatric Hospital from its current Hwy 11 North location down into the city, saying it was "remarkable" for that to happen, and that the province was funding that part of the project in its entirety.

“The divestment of the facility up the hill and bringing it down into a unified site, is providing some advantage to this project, and we had a chance to talk about that today because the Government of Ontario is paying 100 percent of the costs related to mental health," Smitherman said.

"And that means we are also sharing in a variety of costs the local project would otherwise have had to bear.”