Sault Ste. Marie Gets a New Combined Hospital
It seems so appropriate that a mom and her newborn became the first patients at the birth of a new hospital.
Cameras were clicking as Terri-Marie Crack and her newborn Dani were carefully rolled on gurneys through the front doors of Sault Area Hospital. The baby, born the night before, and mother were the first patients on the hospital’s opening day, March 6, 2011.
The $410 million hospital on the north end of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, replaces two aging hospitals – Sault Ste. Marie General Hospital and Plummer Memorial Public Hospital – that merged in 2002.
The not-for-profit Sault Area Hospital consolidates the medical services from the two previous sites, and serves 120,000 people in the city and the surrounding rural areas of the Algoma region.
Spokesman Mario Paluzzi offers a metaphor that’s easy to grasp: comparing the state-of-the-art facility with the old buildings “is like comparing a 1975 Pinto with the Starship Enterprise.”
The new hospital was needed for a number of reasons, but the main one “is the fact that we had an antiquated facility before,” says Ron Gagnon, the hospital’s president and CEO. The two hospitals “were very old, very inefficient facilities.”
The hospital’s construction, which began in 2007, brought a significant economic boost to the community, Ron says. For example, 80 percent of the skilled-trades workers were from Sault Ste. Marie and the immediate area; and $15 to $23 million worth of supplies and services were purchased locally.
With about 600,000 square feet of space, it’s 20 percent larger than the two older hospitals combined. The number of beds hasn’t really changed with the new health center; there are 291. Yet the CEO says there are “significant safety measures” built into the new hospital. For instance, 50 percent of the medical-surgical beds are private rooms, and another 35 percent are semiprivate. That’s meant to bolster infection control; moreover, having one or two patients per room provides more comfort and privacy for patients and families.
The emergency department is described as having double to triple the previous space. Its treatment areas are separated by walls and not the old-style curtains.
Patients and their families also will notice lots of natural light from the many windows in the three-level complex.
In this high-tech, wireless health center, wall-mounted units swing over the bed to provide TV, phone, radio and Internet service for the patients to use during their stay. The units, with a keyboard and screen, also are used by nurses and doctors for clinical documentation (patient charting).
Perhaps the most important new service is the radiation therapy treatment unit, which now means that Sault and Algoma area residents no longer need to travel 3-1/2 hours each way to Sudbury Regional Hospital and its cancer program. About 400 to 450 patients from the Algoma District require cancer radiation treatment each year. The new unit in Sault Ste. Marie, offering advanced technology, is a satellite of the Sudbury program.
“I went through this years ago when my mother traveled to Sudbury on a weekly basis,” Ron Gagnon told the Northern Ontario Medical Journal for a special issue about the new hospital. “It’s already a stressful enough experience to have to deal with cancer. To be away from your family for extended periods of time and to have to make that journey just adds to the stress.”
Sault Area Hospital worked with Infrastructure Ontario – whose mission is to oversee some of the province’s larger and more complex renewal projects – and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to deliver, according to the hospital, the largest public-construction project in the city’s history, on budget and a month ahead of schedule.
Sault Area Hospital, 750 Great Northern Road, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. 705-759-3434. www.sah.on.ca.