Birchmount Hospital being redeveloped, adding community care facility in L’Amoreaux

As Scarborough and the region continue to see an influx of new residents, planning is underway for a massive expansion at Birchmount Hospital. Nick Westoll has more on what this means for the L'Amoreaux neighbourhood and the surrounding community.

As Scarborough and nearby communities continue to see a surge in residents, the need for more health care spaces like Birchmount Hospital are critical.

Since being built in 1985, there haven’t been any major changes to the footprint at the hospital located on Birchmount Road near Finch Avenue East.

For frontline medical professionals like Dr. Mayoorendra Ravichandiran, an emergency room physician and the associate medical director of Birchmount Hospital’s emergency department, the challenges are present every day.

“I think, to put it simply, a lot of times it has to do with space,” Ravichandiran said during a tour CityNews received at Birchmount Hospital.

“This is a challenge that many hospitals face, but I think in Scarborough and Birchmount, especially, there hasn’t been much change to the infrastructure in years.”

During the tour of the intensive care, medicine and emergency units, each area had one or two room vacancies each. All the others were full with patients.

The emergency room with its narrower corridors and smaller rooms sees, on average, around 55,000 people annually. Officials said the space was built to only accommodate a third of that demand.

“We’ve provided a lot of great care to our patients in maybe facilities that aren’t the standard that we should expect,” Ravichandiran said.

The emergency room physician’s roots in Scarborough run deep. When Ravichandiran was seven years old, he and his family immigrated to Scarborough. He began at a volunteer at the Scarborough Health Network (SHN)‘s Centenary Hospital before leaving for school. Since 2016, Ravichandiran returned to join the staff in the emergency department.

However, he said issues can extend beyond the building. Scarborough’s growing diverse population has faced limited care access. In the hospital’s L’Amoreaux neighbourhood, nearly 70 per cent of the residents are immigrants.

“A lot of patients who come in have language issues, chronic medical issues that have oftentimes just because of life circumstances have been neglected for years, so what we deal with is both acute medicine but also chronic and a lot of the social issues that come with patients who come from outside of Canada and who haven’t really gotten the care many times in the countries that they come from,” Ravichandiran said.

“It is a challenge sometimes and we have a lot of approaches … a lot of our health-care workers speak the language of our community and that helps a lot. I speak Tamil and being able to speak with patients who come in not not having fluency with English is very helpful.”

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SHN president and CEO David Graham said his organization has a 10-year plan for change at Birchmount Hospital (and its other two hospitals).

“If the Birchmount hospital wasn’t here, we would be underserviced in a very major way,” he said while highlight various acute-care, stroke, emergency and specialty services.

The first part of the plan is the new Bridletowne Neighbourhood Centre. SHN will have 71,000 out of 200,000 square feet of the community hub, which will also host other community organizations like the YMCA and United Way. The space, which is a three-minute drive southwest of the hospital on Bridletowne Circle, will be home to the hospital’s dialysis and chronic disease services programs.

The hospital itself is set to undergo a massive transformation over the next decade.

“We’re at an 850,000-person catchment … we need more. We’re an underserviced area and this redevelopment is really about addressing the future services and where we are in growth,” Graham said.

The plan calls for inpatient tower high-rise to be built on top of a new podium on the south side of the existing building near the existing parking lot to double capacity at the hospital, which will remain after construction ends. There will be 14 new operating rooms and more than 200 new, inpatient beds.

A new, 36,000-square-foot emergency department will also be built. The unit will be able to accommodate 85,000 visits each other.

Other features include new diagnostic imaging, lab and pharmacy spaces. The hospital will be able to expand general care, critical care, mental health and stroke services.

Lastly, renovations are set to create more welcoming staff and visitor spaces as well as add new wellness and retail spaces.

Meanwhile, Ravichandiran said the proposed changes are greatly needed.

“As someone who grew up here, it means even more because I know the the challenges that we’ve faced in terms of accessing health care in this community, so being able to see that change happening and being able to kind of look forward with a vision of what might be coming in the pipeline is very motivating,” he said.

“It’s very encouraging for the health-care workers as well … even seeing the renderings and seeing the work that’s being put into the development is extremely rewarding.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario government has approved the $1.2-billion expansion. However,  Scarborough Health Network still needs to contribute to the cost. SHN’s charitable foundation launched the ‘Love Scarborough’ campaign to appeal for donations and to raise money for new equipment and part of the new building’s costs. 

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