About 200 people, including residents and stakeholders, attended the first comprehensive Integrated Facility public consultation session on July 27 at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, facilitated by Paul Youck of P3A Architecture in Regina.
Presentations by each of the four partners - City of Swift Current, Cypress Health Region, Chinook School Division and Holy Trinity Catholic School Division - preceded an informal information exchange that encouraged residents to speak one-on-one with representatives and leave notes expressing their sentiments and suggestions on presentation boards at five stations representing the major stakeholders.
These boards will circulate at events throughout the community in the coming weeks, hopefully inspiring others to contribute their thoughts. Survey forms offered a complementary means of providing feedback that included optional demographic information.
"As we plan for the future of this great community, residents will play an important role in shaping it," said Mayor Jerrod Schafer. "This project is not about the needs or wants of any one particular individual family, but about the community and providing outstanding services for all residents who enjoy the benefits."
Mayor Schafer stressed that the funding of two new schools as part of the project, one for Holy Trinity and one for Chinook, will be entirely underwritten by the Ministry of Education and will not affect regional taxes.
Beth Vachon, CEO of the Cypress Health Region, the Southwest's largest employer, noted, "At the time we replaced the hospital we purchased sufficient land to expand into the future and to also include long term care at that same site. The hospital was built to accommodate this expansion and the building was designed to easily link long-term care through a passageway.
"We see a number of advantages to co-locating our services in one location," explained Vachon, "and that includes that all services can equally be accessed by our long-term care residents. If hospital services are required, there will not be a need for ambulance transfers as is the case now. This reduces the stress for our residents, increases the timeliness of the care and services that we can provide, and reduces the cost of ambulance fees for residents and their families."
Vachon also cited recruitment and retention advantages with an integrated facility.
"Co-location of community health services staff would also further enhance the services we provide," Vachon noted. "We have the staff who want to work in integrated teams and this is a recruitment and retention advantage where the environment supports collaborative care."
Vachon added, "When we look at the advantages of partnering with other community organizations we also see a number of opportunities that we cannot achieve on our own as a health region."
Chinook School Division Board Chair Randy Beler reminded everyone that "the concept for the Integrated Facility was born out of a meeting in 2009 organized by the Swift Current Kiwanis Club." At that meeting they asked major community organizations "to engage in collaborative discussions with the goal of developing a shared vision for the future health and development of Swift Current and area."
Referencing the many 50-year-old facilities within both public and Catholic school divisions, he added, "... our schools are aging. They are overcrowded at the elementary level and not functionally equipped to support the way students learn in the 21st century. This integrated concept offers us an absolutely tremendous opportunity to meet our individual needs and at the same time benefit from the synergies that can be realized by working collaboratively with other organizations."
An additional concept that has grown from discussions to date is the evolution of the Cypress Regional Hospital into a teaching hospital, supported by the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing, and facilitated through Great Plains College. It is just one of many peripheral visions that underscore the tremendous scope of an integrated facility.
"One of the great things that I talked with a couple of folks tonight is the opportunity that this [integrated facility] would bring for other opportunities," said Schafer. "So when you look at the partnerships that are involved here, bringing in the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing, and expanding the educational opportunities here, I think post-secondary education expansion in Swift Current is really key to growing our community, keeping young people here."
Additionally, Schafer acknowledged the potential for external investment from corporate partners and private developers to propose complementary services such as private care homes, daycare services, wellness centres and cultural facilities as well as food and merchandise retailers.
Summing up the evening, Schafer said, "I think what everyone realizes is this is about interactive dialogue, and we had residents chatting with each other, and then they had the opportunity to go to each partner and provide their feedback, whether it was concerns, whether it was opportunities they saw, things they wanted to see happen with the facility or in Swift Current, so it's truly an interactive process and - as I've emphasized all night - Swift Current residents are going to have an opportunity to shape the way the community grows into the future."
The vision, Schafer noted, must embrace the City and the region's long-term future.
"I was at a conference earlier in the summer and one of the elders there that gave a prayer at the beginning mentioned that leaders should be making decisions based on the outcome for their children and their grandchildren. And you know what, I think this is the foundation work that we're trying to lay in Swift Current as well.
"Right now we've got the Ministry of Education funding two schools, now the City and the Health Region are waiting back to see if the funding model for long term care, which is a priority, [is approved], and once we get affirmation there then we can start to roll out our game plan of where the City sits and what we can afford, and how we pay for things by tapping outside resources."
Beth Vachon added, "We've finally been able to articulate a vision and we now need input and feedback from our community to see whether or not this is the right track. Is this what the community in fact wishes and wants and needs?
"The first start of that whole consultation process we had a good turnout, and our partnerships - regardless - will be stronger for this process," Vachon concluded.
Comments from the public were generally constructive, even if the responders did not agree with the integrated facility concept. One individual thought that the facility could be "the greatest event to hit Swift Current since the railroad of 1885. Hurrah!" while another felt "Moving to the country is not the way to go." Most cited the need for an overpass and busing improvements, and many saw the facility as the means to "hosting tournaments" and offering "inter-generational opportunities."