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A lot of people put in a lot of work to build a district hospital in Timmins

The regional facility marked its 30th anniversary this year

Many memorable events happened in 1993.

Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stepped down and was replaced by Kim Campbell, who was later that year defeated in a federal election by Jean Chretien. In Europe, Czechoslovakia officially split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Bill Clinton was sworn in as president of the United States. The movie Jurassic Park dominated the box office. A little thing called the world wide web was launched.

It was also an important year for Northeastern Ontario as Timmins and District Hospital opened its doors in November.

But it took a lot of planning, discussions and funding to make this project happen.

“The Timmins and District Hospital (TADH) was incorporated in 1988 following the amalgamation of the two existing hospitals (St. Mary's General and Porcupine General) within the City of Timmins,” according to the hospital’s website. “In November 1993, the newly constructed TADH opened with the transfer of all patients and staff from the St. Mary's site. In March 1996, the chronic care/rehabilitation services of TADH, provided at the Porcupine General site, were moved to the new site of TADH. Since April 1996, all services provided by TADH have been available at one site.”

Gilles Bisson, who was the MPP for the Timmins area for 32 years, represented the riding when the hospital first opened.

“It was a work in progress for quite a long time,” he said. “There were two hurdles to overcome. The first one was getting the province to provide the funding for the hospital. It went through due process and eventually it got approved. Part of the conditions was that it had to become a regional hospital and that’s where the Timmins and district was created. And that was not easy.

“There were people in South Porcupine and people in Timmins, at the old St. Mary’s and the old Porcupine General, who didn’t want to see the history of their hospitals get merged into something bigger and lost.

“So, there was a lot of work done by a lot of people in order to get everyone together and finally say this is the way to go.”

Construction was underway in the early 1990s.

“I remember going to the site as it was being constructed, just to take a look around and see what they were doing,” Bisson said. “It was quite impressive because we were used to the size St. Mary’s and Porcupine General was. All of a sudden there was this modern facility being built in an architectural form that was quite interesting at the time. It was quite something to see it go through the various stages of construction.”

The creation of TADH was important for two reasons: It serviced a wider area of Northeastern Ontario and it expanded the services that were available in the region.

“There are certain services that Timmins offers that wasn’t offered back in the days of St. Mary’s and Porcupine General,” Bisson said.

The TADH website includes a summary of the services now available locally.

“The hospital offers a full range of medical, surgical, critical care, maternity, newborn, pediatric, long-term care and mental health services as well extensive health education and district services,” it reads. “TADH houses 154 beds hospital-wide, with an additional 29 surge beds created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has approximately 850 frontline staff and 70 physicians. The hospital is a leader in state-of-the-art telecommunications and diagnostic equipment connecting physicians and staff to medical practitioners and specialists throughout Canada.”

Bisson said the creation of TADH was vital to the improvement of health care for the region.

“Not only having been the MPP but also a patient there a few times, I have to say I’ve always been impressed with the professionalism of our staff at the hospital, everyone from those who maintain the hospital and those who maintain their stations, health care workers, physicians, etc.,” he said. “It’s a testament to the professionalism of the people who work there.

“It’s not always perfect. I don’t care what hospital you go to, if you’re in Toronto, Sudbury or Timmins, there is always somebody who will complain about something. But by and large the services have been pretty stellar.”

Bisson, a New Democrat, gives a lot of credit to his predecessor, MPP Alan Pope, for convincing the provincial government that a regional hospital was needed. At the time, Pope was a member of the official opposition Conservatives to the ruling Liberals.

“When we did the opening with Premier (Bob) Rae, the Minister of Health and myself, we made sure to invite Alan Pope, who was the former member,” Bisson said. “It may not have been funded by him, but he was certainly active as a member of the opposition lobbying the government to get the funding that was necessary. We thought it was important to recognize Alan’s involvement.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that a hospital, a highway or whatever doesn’t get funded by just one person. It gets funded because a whole lot of people come together to put the proposal together.”

Since opening, TADH has serviced more than three million patients in Northeastern Ontario, from the James Bay Coast to Englehart and from Hearst to Kirkland Lake.