Brampton residents may have to raise $125M for hospital expansion despite no timeline on 24/7 ER

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When his wife fell suddenly ill, Coun. Pat Fortini raced her to the city’s only emergency room at Brampton Civic Hospital.

Fortini reached Civic between 10 and 11 p.m., where he recalls seeing a packed ER waiting room full of suffering patients. He said he was told to expect a 12-hour wait. Fortini left and took his wife, who has since recovered, to Georgetown Hospital — about a 30-minute drive west — where he said she received treatment within an hour.

The experience left Fortini shaken, but not surprised, at the plight of patients forced to wait several hours for care. After all, the council he serves on declared a health emergency in the City of Brampton in January 2020, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the community. 

“They’re in the hallway, just suffering. It’s just not right,” Fortini told CBC News. 

Brampton, a city with a population of nearly 650,000, has just one hospital complete with an emergency room. In comparison, Toronto, with a population nearing three million, has 15 emergency rooms.

Earlier this year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that Brampton was getting a second hospital, but it’s not a brand new facility. Instead, the government’s plan is to expand the Peel Memorial Centre, an outpatient facility that offers a range of medical services but not an ER.

The facility does have an urgent care centre, but that is currently closed. The province said it will spend some $18 million this year and next to get it back up and running 24/7, but even then urgent care centres don’t treat patients with potentially life-threatening illness.  

Ford’s announcement was met with optimism, particularly by Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and William Osler Health System (WOHS) president Dr. Naveed Mohammad. But others, like Ontario Health Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra, and members of the opposition, were left with questions, particularly around how the promise of new inpatient beds amounted to the same thing as building a new hospital.

Brampton Civic is the only hospital in Brampton, and the only facility with an emergency room, to serve more than 650,000 residents. (Grant Linton/CBC)

There’s also the question of who will pay.

Brampton residents may soon be asked to pay into a special hospital levy in order to raise $125 million for the Peel Memorial expansion, even though there’s still no firm timeline for when it will have a 24/7 emergency room. Ford said only that an ER would be added “eventually.”

City council is set to vote on that plan next month.

Fortini said he supports the levy and suggested it will amount to some $53 per year, for four or five years, for residents. But critics say Brampton residents shouldn’t have to pay for better access to emergency care.

Mehra says the province should pay, especially because Brampton residents raised funds for WOHS to pay for the development of the Civic hospital.

“I think history matters, and frankly, the province of Ontario, for its terrible decision-making, owes Brampton,” she said.

“Brampton shouldn’t have to raise a cent for the new hospital, given what happened with the fiasco that was the last hospital.”

Mehra said she’s also concerned the project costs might increase in the coming years, potentially leaving residents on the hook for even more.

What is Brampton getting and when?

CBC News sought interviews with Osler’s Mohammad and Brampton South PC MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria, but both declined interviews.

“We are pleased to proceed with plans for a new seven-storey patient tower at Peel Memorial that will begin with 250 inpatient beds and grow by nearly 100 additional inpatient beds over time,” Osler spokesperson Emma Murphy wrote in a statement.

“When construction is complete, Osler’s Peel Memorial Hospital will also offer new and enhanced outpatient services and day programs, along with Brampton’s second 24/7 Emergency Department.”

While construction for the inpatient wing is expected to begin in 2023 and be completed by 2027, neither WOHS nor the provincial government has offered a timeline for the opening of the emergency room.

Sarkaria also sent a statement saying that an emergency department and acute-care centre are part of the plan.

“We have made the agreement to transform the Peel Memorial Urgent Care Centre, to create an emergency department there, to create an acute care centre there, and to build it up into a full-grown hospital,” Sarkaria wrote.

He added it’s normal for municipalities to help pay for hospital projects.

“Local share of financing is a standard government requirement for every new hospital in Ontario and project details, including bed capacity, are further refined throughout the capital planning process,” he wrote.

Natalie Mehra, the Ontario Health Coalition’s executive director, is concerned project costs for the Peel Memorial hospital expansion will increase through the expected public-private partnership, as they did when Brampton Civic Hospital was built in 2007. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Peel expansion won’t cover needs

When Brampton council declared a health emergency it said the city needed at least 800 beds to serve the current population.

Brampton Centre NDP MPP Sara Singh, who has criticized the government’s announcement from the beginning, said what’s being put forward isn’t enough.

“We’re only going to get 250 beds, potentially over seven years,” Singh said, adding her party wants to see Peel Memorial expanded into a full service hospital that will provide 24-hour care.

The Ontario New Democrats also want to see a third hospital built in Brampton.

The current expansion, she said, is a “slap in the face to the people of Brampton, who have been promised a new hospital by government after government and yet no one has delivered on that.”

Mehra, meanwhile, is also concerned about the potential for ballooning costs. 

Citing the Ontario auditor general’s report from 2008, Mehra says the public-private partnership agreement under which Civic was built increases the initial projected cost of $357 million to $614 million by the end of construction.

“When they built that hospital, they built it as the first public private partnership (P3), in which they privatized the financing of it, and in order to pay for the exorbitant costs of the private financing of the hospital, not only did they shrink the scale of the plan, but also in the end it ate up the plans for the Peel Memorial redevelopment,” Mehra said.

She says the increased costs from the P3 agreement, years of successive governments tightening budgets and cutting corporate taxes resulted in Brampton getting the “short end of the stick.”

At a meeting on Nov. 3, Brampton council looked at the possibility of the city paying a local share for the Peel Memorial expansion and redevelopment and a Cancer Care Centre.

The two projects are estimated to cost about $1.1 billion, according to William Osler Health System, with $700 million going toward Peel Memorial, and $365 million for the Cancer Care Centre.

The projects — known as Phase II redevelopment — were already in the works before the Ford government was elected.

WOHS estimates the local share for the projects to be worth some $250 million, with the hospital covering half of it through fundraising. The city is being asked to cover the remaining half of $125 million.

Council will continue debating the levy next month.

Have a story in Brampton that CBC News should cover? Email us at bramptonnews@cbc.ca

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