(By Vincent Ball, The Brantford Expositor)

A new hospital for Brantford is one of the toughest projects Don Hall has seen in more than 30 years of health care facility redevelopment.

Hall, who has worked on major hospital redevelopment projects in London and Niagara among others, said the Brant Community Healthcare System is in the midst of a perfect storm. It’s a tempest that includes a deteriorating old building that can’t handle a rapidly growing population.

“As of this morning we had 38 patients in need of a bed in some way, shape or form,” Hall, senior director, corporate infrastructure and redevelopment with the BCHS, said on Jan. 29. “There were three ambulances outside our emergency department that couldn’t off-load their patients because there was no place in the emergency department to place them.

“That’s where were at.”

With a new hospital between 10 and 12 years away, meeting the needs of a growing population is expected to become even more challenging.

Citing figures provided by Ontario’s finance ministry, Hall said the population is expected to grow by 13 per cent or 20,000 more people by 2031. Of those, about 17,000, are expected to be 65 years of age or older.

Meanwhile, the Brantford General Hospital’s aging infrastructure is failing.

Since March 2023, all three of the hospital’s boilers have failed at one time or another, forcing hospital officials to use temporary boilers and additional generators.

One boiler has been repaired and is ready for service while a second is now under repair.

The boiler failures forced healthcare system officials to temporarily suspend all non-urgent and non-emergency surgical care affecting 232 patients between Dec. 18, 2023 and Jan. 4, 2024.

Efforts to take care of the cancelled cases are underway and a proposal to purchase three new boilers has been prepared for the provincial health ministry.

Efforts to get a new hospital gained a lot of attention in March 2022 when Premier Doug Ford visited Brantford General. He announced $2.5 million to kick-start the planning process.

The $2.5 million in funding however, is just the first step of a lengthy planning process that is expected to take several years.

The various stages require healthcare system officials to provide the rationale for the project. As well, details of every program and service to be offered based on community need have to be outlined, Hall said.

The proposal is then reviewed and approved by Ontario Health and the province’s health ministry.

Back in 2022, the estimated cost of a new hospital was projected to be $1 billion.

Asked about the projected cost now, Hall said those discussions are premature.

“Currently, Ontario is seeing unprecedented construction issues in both costs, materials availability and the availability of resources (human capital) to build these projects,” Hall said. Those issues have raised concerns about the capacity or ability of the construction industry to take on large-scale projects.

For those reasons, Hall said it’s fair to assume the project will be in the billions of dollars.

Hall and the healthcare system team remains focused on providing care now and planning for the future.

“Our goal is to advocate to advance our project at all haste as large sections of the current building are outdated, no longer functional and have exceed their life cycle,” Hall said. “It makes it difficult for our qualified health care professionals to do their jobs providing the care and help our residents deserve and need.

“We need a new hospital now, more than ever in our history.”