By Carly Snider
Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) cares about its community and is committed to providing the safest, highest quality care possible. So when the population in the Barrie-area
“The city of Barrie has grown at an explosive rate,” said Shelley Ditty, vice-president of planning and support services at RVH. “At the time we were building and even now, this area is one of the fastest growing areas in the country; our growth rate was 24 per cent. Given the population growth, RVH was consistently over capacity and need to expand to meet the area’s growing demand for healthcare.”
With that in mind, in 2009 RVH broke ground on an ambitious $450 million redevelopment – one of the largest infrastructure projects in the region’s history. The project doubled the size of the existing health centre with an expansion of 400,000 square feet and 100,000 square feet of renovations within the existing facility. The expansion created the capacity for 101 inpatient beds with the potential to add an additional 64 beds in the future. RVH’s Emergency department (ED) tripled in physical space with nine new trauma rooms, isolation rooms, a mental health crisis team, and expanded acute and sub-acute areas. The Imaging department also doubled in size, and two new operating rooms, which will operate on SMART OR technology, are being constructed.
The project also included the creation of the 75,000 square foot Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre, which will provide care to more than 2,000 newly diagnosed patients a year and see more than 65,000 patients in its first year of operation. RVH had been providing cancer care in a small clinic and temporary radiation suite, but most patients in Simcoe Muskoka were still traveling to Toronto to receive treatment. The addition of a cancer centre gave individuals the opportunity to get their lifesaving care closer to home.
“What was really important to us was that we wanted to provide care closer to home,” said Ditty.
This ambitious project was possible thanks to remarkable support throughout the region. The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care funded approximately 71 per cent of the project, but $110 million was contributed locally. Outstanding support from area municipalities saw the City of Barrie invest $52.5 million, the County of Simcoe contributed $20 million and the District of Muskoka pledged $3 million. Residents, businesses and organizations throughout Simcoe Muskoka contributed $35.6 million through the RVH Foundation’s highly-successful “I Believe” fundraising campaign. RVH’s “local share” was one of the most robust in the province enabling RVH to complete the project without incurring any debt.
“The building of an expansion while also renovating an existing, fully operational facility is a complex challenge,” says Ditty. “The project consisted of many different components, from building a cancer centre to tripling the size of our existing Laboratory. It was essential to carefully sequence the timing of construction so we could continue providing the standard of safe, quality care on which RVH prides itself.”
“A health centre is a 24-hour operation,” says Ditty. “We can’t stop clinical activity because of construction. For instance, we needed to work adjacent to a patient care unit, while not impacting patient care for the purposes of construction.”
While the schedule wasn’t met at every stage, constant communication with the contractor, and keeping a watchful eye on construction milestones enabled the project to come together.
Ditty is very pleased with the outcome of the project and recognizes that there was no one person who made the redevelopment successful.
“In my experience, it’s a joint effort,” she says. “It is groups such as your contractors, consultants, Planning team and end-users that are key to the success of the project.”
“Our end goal was to receive a quality building that meets our patients needs for years to come,” says Ditty. “You have a chance to build an expansion of this size so rarely that the project needed careful planning to ensure it would accommodate the health care requirements of the foreseeable future.”
With the end product providing obvious health care benefits to the residents of Simcoe and Muskoka, the building process brought economic benefits to the area as well. The construction and renovations brought 400 to 450 trades on site at its peak, with 70 to 80 per cent of those trades coming from the local community. Many of the vendors and subcontractors were also drawn from the area.
Now that the project is nearly finished, RVH has launched the largest recruitment drive in its history with an expectation to hire 700 new staff members over the course of the next few years. Ideally, the health centre will be able to again draw from the local community to fill these positions.
With Phase 1 completed, any future expansion will be explored once RVH identifies its strategic direction for the next three to five years. In the meantime, RVH and the region are celebrating the completion of the redevelopment and showing tremendous pride in the expansion.
For Ditty, her proudest moment was when the health centre turned the lights off in the existing ED at 1 a.m. one night and opened the doors to the new ED only a moment later. After watching the community witness the growth of the project, literally brick by brick, she knew it was worth it when she saw the first patients walk through the doors for care.
“At RVH, we are all proud to have such a remarkable facility to serve the health care needs of our region,” says Ditty. “Many of our patients say, it’s a beautiful and welcoming building. I think we should be proud of that reaction. Our priority is to always provide safe, quality care that meets the needs of our patient population and I believe this expansion allows us to easily do that for many years to come.”