Angry residents urge retention of beds at hospital site

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A group of more than 70 people gathered to vent their anger over the sale of a hospital site in Cornwall - and urge health-care officials to keep long-term care beds in the city.

Thursday night's town hall meeting at the RCAFA Wing on Water Street included five city councillors and several dozen frustrated residents who are worried the sale of the Cornwall Community Hospital's Second Street site will result in the loss of long-term care accessability in the city.

"I'm appalled to hear that the Cornwall General Hospital is to be sold with no (consultation) from the public," said city resident Ian Wilson during the meeting. "It's a lot of disrespect for the people of Cornwall.

"Closing this (facility) will hurt Cornwall and the elderly."

The hospital announced in December it would be selling the facility, as services become consolidated at the McConnell site.

The decision has sparked outrage among many, including many local municipal officials who believed the groundwork was being laid to turn the facility into a long-term care facility.

The property has been listed for $2 million, despite the fact that it has an assessed value in the neighbourhood of $60 million.

"As taxpayers we've paid for this building many times over," said Helen Paquin, a community activist and former chair of the social justice coalition. "It's been assessed at $60 million and you're going to give it away for $2 million? Don't just give it away. That's insane."

A resolution unanimously passed by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit board last year asked the Champlain Local Health Integration Network to form a task force to look at the 32-bed Second Street site’s suitability as a long-term care facility.

The LHIN and local municipalities, including Cornwall, supported the resolution, as did local MPPs, including the PC’s Jim McDonell and Liberals’ Grant Crack.

Coun. Gerry Samson spoke at Thursday's meeting and told the audience he has heard from an "official source" that there has already been one bid submitted for the property.

Mark MacDonald, a former city councillor and co-chair of Thursday's meeting, said community action will have to be swift if there is a move to maintain the long-term care beds at the Second Street site.

The hospital board is meeting Jan. 25 to review offers for the property.

"We run the risk of losing this facility," MacDonald said in an interview. "If a community group or a not-for-profit group does not step forward, it could be lost to a private developer."

Even if the facility is retained for use as a long-term care facility, changing its designation from a hospital could have a huge financial impact. The facility will have to be brought up to code, which includes the removal of asbestos that remains in certain areas of the property - not to mention general maintenance and upgrades.

There would also likely be a significant increase in property taxes.

Organizations: Cornwall Community Hospital, Eastern Ontario Health Unit board, Champlain Local Health Integration Network

Geographic location: Cornwall, Second Street, Water Street

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