December 3, 2023

Health care in the Blenheim area will go through a major transformation, with plans for a multi-million-dollar health centre announced to both help recruit doctors and equip them with multiple services in one place.

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Health care in the Blenheim area will go through a major transformation, with plans for a multi-million-dollar health centre announced to both help recruit doctors and equip them with multiple services in one place.

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About 21,000 residents in Chatham-Kent, which includes Blenheim, have no family doctor, and those that work in the area need more space, said Cathy Smith, a spokesperson for the newly-formed Blenheim Medical Health Foundation.

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The Blenheim Medical Centre serves more than 5,600 patients, but Smith said the building is “woefully inadequate in terms of its size for any kind of programs that we’re looking to implement.”

Dr. Andrew Lanz-O’Brien, a foundation member who works with four other doctors in the medical centre, put into perspective just how tight things are in the building.

“If all five of us were to try to work at the same time on the same day, we’d run out of examination rooms,” he said.

The effort to overhaul the provision of medical care in Blenheim is off to a flying start with the acquisition of a 26,000-sq.-ft. building, at 2 Hyland Dr., donated by local residents Annie and Peter Timmermans.

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“Now we can focus on fundraising for the renovation as opposed to fundraising for the purchase of the building,” Smith said.

“The building is fantastic,” she said, but noted renovations are needed to meet the requirements of a medical facility.

Millions of dollars will need to be raised for the project, with plans to have the building open by 2025, she said.

More than two million Ontarians have no family doctor, leaving many areas with shortages of physicians.

“It’s hard for patients to get a doctor, it’s hard to get timely access to care, it’s hard to get the tests and consults you need,” Lanz-O’Brien said.

Still, he said he’s of the view that “build it and they will come.”

“The idea of this project is, ‘Let’s have a beautiful new place that is just a dream to work in,’” he said.

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The foundation envisions having diagnostic imaging services, such as X-ray and ultrasound, along with laboratory, pharmacy and mental health services to complement more doctors.

Lanz-O’Brien said with doctors and other health care providers having colleagues to make referrals to, “essentially, its integrated care, one-stop shopping.”

It’s the kind of facility that will get the attention of doctors, he said.

“If you’re a doctor working in a place like that, you know your patients are going to get the care they need right away and it makes your job easier. It makes the work environment more attractive.”

Lanz-O’Brien said additional phases are planned for the health hub, with more structures and health care providers.

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“These are stretch goals that are going to happen over the next decade-plus.”

Smith said there’s enough room on the property to be able to do all sorts of wonderful things” in the future.

The foundation also plans to invest in recruiting medical professionals.

Lanz-O’Brien said if trained professionals from the area decide to return to Chatham-Kent, after medical or nursing school, some of the money being raised after the first phase is done will go to scholarships and recruitment efforts.

“If people already have roots here, that’s certainly going to help retain them.”

Lanz-O’Brien said a broad recruitment effort will be needed, so having a beautiful facility will help.

The doctor is impressed with how the community has already stepped up.

“We want this project to feel like the community owns it,” said Lanz-O’Brien said, adding it is a not-for-profit organization.

Though it took years of discussion to get to this stage, Smith and Lanz-O’Brien say to watch for more to come.

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