Densification and Health CareIan Barrett
In the last few weeks there has been quite a bit of debate around where a new hospital in Gatineau should be located. This gained more attention following comments made by Laurence Cannon, a former municipal, provincial and federal politician, as well as a diplomat. Mr. Cannon, followed shortly afterwards by a large majority of municipal councilors, has stated that the new hospital should be located on the island of Hull, and speculation has been building that the recommended site will be that of the Robert Guertin Arena.
Old Hull certainly needs to be rethought, as following the implementation of telework by the federal government it has become a shell of its former self. It was largely based around providing services to federal civil servants, mostly during their lunch hour. Given that a sizable portion of federal workers are likely to continue working remotely at least part time, the former model for Old Hull needs to change.
However, will placing a new hospital in Old Hull significantly contribute to revitalizing the neighborhood?
For this to be so, the hospital would need to attract a much greater number of residents to live in the area. Given that it may be placed at the relatively isolated far end of the island, this is by no means a given. Moreover, the Robert Guertin location would be less than 4 kilometers from the existing Hull hospital on Lionel Édmond Boulevard, so this may not substantially improve access to health services for many people.
The city has been pushing densification in Aylmer for quite some time. With the congestion that we often see on the two major arteries leading into Hull from the west, placing the hospital in Aylmer certainly makes sense. This is especially true given the city’s desire to concentrate retirees in Aylmer, first with the Monastère, and more recently with L’Initial and the new retirement facility being built at the old town hall across from Galeries Aylmer. With thousands of seniors moving to the area, having a hospital nearby provides a critical service.
Aylmer is also the only major section of Gatineau without a hospital. Beyond the Gatineau Hospital, both Hull and Buckingham already have hospitals of their own. Adding a second hospital to Hull while leaving Aylmer with ever more residents but needing to transport patients to Hull hardly seems reasonable.
If the city insists on placing the new hospital in Old Hull, it should also adjust its densification strategies to focus on that neighborhood instead of Aylmer, especially for future retirement homes.
Lastly, given that the hospital in Hull is already experiencing major staffing shortages, it’s even more questionable whether a new hospital located so close to the existing one will be able to substantially increase health care access for the city’s residents. There are other, more fundamental problems with our healthcare system that need to be addressed. Meanwhile, Aylmer continuing as the only region of Gatineau without a hospital is unlikely to go over well with people in western parts of the city.