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Remote northern hospital fights for promised federal funding for new health campus

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) is urging the Government of Canada to fulfill a 2007 agreement to fund a new health campus in Moosonee. WAHA President and CEO Lynne Innes, along with several Indigenous leaders, emphasized the critical need for the government to honor its commitment.

Included in the new health campus is a hostel, staff housing, an Elder Care Centre and a new hospital, plus an acute care centre on Moose Factory Island. The new hospital in Moosonee will replace Weeneebayko General Hospital (WGH), originally built in 1950 as a tuberculosis facility, located on Moose Factory Island.

WGH is the oldest un-renovated hospital in Canada.

“This hospital project is a much-needed infrastructure venture, leading to an essential service for all people who live in Northern Ontario, and with particular significance for First Nations in the region,” said National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, AFN. “These Nations are prepared to support the goal of a hospital, and can be part of the planning, construction, development and share ideas for operations that are strengths-based and culture-informed.

“The federal government is obligated to ensure First Nations can access quality healthcare in alignment with inherent and Treaty rights.  With that in mind, I stand with these communities in asking for a renewed commitment from the Minister to ensure this project is completed.”

The federal government’s 2024-2025 budget did not include the expected funding for the new campus, despite the 2007 Weeneebayko Area Health Integration Framework Agreement (WAHIFA), which promised 45 per cent of the capital costs.

National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) underscored the significance of the project. “This hospital project is a much-needed infrastructure venture, leading to an essential service for all people who live in Northern Ontario, and with particular significance for First Nations in the region. The federal government is obligated to ensure First Nations can access quality healthcare in alignment with inherent and Treaty rights.”

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) also voiced his frustration.

“WAHA provides vital life-saving services to some of the most underserviced First Nations in the country, and its infrastructure has long been in need of replacement. Nowhere else in Canada would citizens accept this standard of care, and why should we? Our federal Treaty partner must honour its obligations and confirm funding for this project today.”

The WAHA Redevelopment Project, initiated in 2019, includes a hostel, staff housing, an Elder Care Centre, a new hospital in Moosonee, and an acute care centre on Moose Factory Island. These facilities are designed to replace the aging WGH, which is the oldest un-renovated hospital in Canada.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) has supported the project.

“The OHA, alongside more than 100 leaders from Ontario’s hospital community, have expressed total support for the WAHA Redevelopment Project. The people of the James and Hudson’s Bay coasts, who are predominantly members of Cree First Nations, rely on WAHA for their health services. The Government of Ontario has already committed full funding for its portion. The OHA and Ontario’s hospitals call on the Government of Canada to honour its commitment and fully fund this long overdue redevelopment project,” said Dominic Giroux, OHA Board Chair.

In 2019 the capital planning process to get approval and eventual transfer of funding for the new health campus began in earnest. This work, referred to as the WAHA Redevelopment Project, included regular meetings with the project’s two funders: the Government of Canada, represented by Indigenous Service of Canada, and the Government of Ontario, represented by the Ministry of Health and Infrastructure Ontario.

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