Councillor supports health centre alternative
The Niagara Medical Centre in Virgil, to be expanded by developer Anthony Annunziata, would offer the same space as a not-for-profit health hub, but would be privately owned.
Anthony Annunziata, the developer who owns the Niagara Medical Centre, won’t be asking to make a deputation at council to discuss his plans.
But if councillors invite him to share his intentions, he would be “more than happy” to attend, he says.
The subject of his property expansion was introduced by Coun. Paolo Miele at last week’s council meeting during a discussion of a not-for-profit health hub, with members of the health steering committee hoping for town-owned property beside the Niagara-on-the-Lake community centre and a commitment from council, but didn’t get it.
Miele said Annunziata should be considered a “community partner” in health care, and suggested a new building, funded by taxpayers, might not be necessary if the medical centre expansion could accommodate all the same services under one roof on Niagara Stone Road.
The steering committee expects to raise $7.5 million for a 30,000 square foot building with three floors, including a basement level, that would accommodate the NOTL doctors of the Niagara North Family health team, health non-profit agencies, and the independent services still at the hospital. Doctors would have lower rent than some other services, council was told, and that subsidy is a concern for Miele and some other councillors.
Annunziata’s expansion plan is for a 30,000 square foot building, also three levels - the raised lower level would open out to a terrace in the rear. But the design that he hopes to move forward with is to accommodate doctors’ offices, so he needs a commitment from doctors before putting the shovel in the ground.
With a commitment, he could be ready to build in September, he said, with the work completed in three to four months.
“The doctors have the choice to go anywhere they want,” he said. “If they choose not to (locate in his building) then I have to redesign it. I would need to know the doctors’ intentions to move forward, and it would be nice to know sooner rather than later. But I don’t want to interfere with the health hub project.”
He already has a diagnostic imaging service interested, and although he hasn’t made a connection with a lab service, “there is space for it. There is no service we can’t provide. And I can add another 40,000 square feet if I choose to, with adequate parking.”
His building is “well-placed to provide all the medical needs in NOTL,” he said, “but councillors need to decide what they want to do without interference from me.”
If he doesn’t get a commitment from the medical community, “I am still interested in some form of expansion, but I don’t know what it will look like without the doctors. If I don’t have the doctors I’ll have to make a difficult decision.”
Miele and other councillors expressed concern about the Town getting itself into the business of health care, especially when there is an alternative, but it’s not what the steering committee is hoping for.
“That’s a totally different model,” said steering committee chair Brenda Jones. “This is a wellness centre, totally different from an independent developer with a business for profit.”
A motion was passed with a vote of five to four at last week’s council meeting, directing staff to focus on the property issue - whether the Town could give, sell or lease the land beside the community centre to a health hub - while giving the steering committee time to work out some of the details councillors asked for, including a fundraising plan and how rents would be determined.
Miele, one of the dissenting votes, said he believes Annunziata’s development is “the best solution for this health hub, saving taxpayers’ money. It’s a better solution than spending $7 million. And health care isn’t our business. We’re not the Ministry of Health.”
The steering committee has said it won’t be asking the municipality for funding, but will be going to other levels of government and will launch a public fundraising campaign.
“We want to make sure the needs of our community are met,” said Miele, “with the space we need for a health centre. Mr. Annunziata is willing to provide that space, and not on our dime.”