Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeHousingCouncil rejects motion to move money from affordable housing to new clinic

Council rejects motion to move money from affordable housing to new clinic

A motion at City Council on Tuesday night that would see the city’s affordable housing budget cut by 65% in favour of directing those funds towards providing space for family health services.

The motion, proposed by Meadbrook-Strathcona Councillor Jeff McLaren, would see the city’s 2026 affordable and supportive housing target lowered from 480 new units to 307, instead $6.5 million of the $10 million earmarked for housing would be transferred into the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund and used to convert a long-term care facility into a family healthcare clinic.

The long-term care facility operated by Extendicare is moving to a new location on the city’s west end this summer, and the city completed the purchase of the building and its land early in 2024.

24 delegations from the community lined up to discuss the motion that was presented, mostly brought forward by McLaren and Councillor Osanic advocating for the family medicine clinic, with several using previous comments from councillors on the doctor shortage as further emphasis on the need for family doctors.

Renata Sobiesiak spoke in favour of the motion, and said the workload this could take off of doctors will have a huge impact in lessening the crisis.

“This new motion offers Kingston an opportunity to embark on a new, innovative path of attracting family physicians by offering a plug and play, ready made space in a medical building with administrative, IT, and HR supports built in,” Sobiesiak said.

“This new approach would allow physicians to focus their times looking after patients.” 

Many delegations spoke to their own personal experience of challenges caused by the lack of a family doctor.

A delegation from the Kingston and District Labour Council (KDLC) spoke against the motion, saying affordable housing needs to remain Council’s primary commitment.

Gavin Anderson of KDLC said while the challenge caused by the lack of family doctors shouldn’t be discounted, it can’t be at the expense of the most vulnerable in the community.

“We’re not here tonight to dismiss the stories of people struggling to get healthcare, we just don’t want the council to forget about the commitment to the homeless,” Anderson said.

“And unfortunately this proposal before you does take away significant resources from people who have no place to sleep tonight.”

Councillor McLaren said that the proposal is an innovative way to give Kingston a leg up in its healthcare services, incentivizing doctors to work within the clinic by the city simplifying their day to day operations and lowering their costs.

He says doctors are coming through Queen’s family medicine program and initiatives of the Ontario government, and Kingston needs to have the infrastructure prepared for them and, he added, it will help to keep them.

“This could be one possible way that we can find synergy to make primary care medicine and family medicine more attractive in Kingston,” McLaren said.

“If we reduce the costs and barriers to individual practitioners and clinics.”

McLaren said there would be no cost to the taxpayer, however city staff pointed out that for that to be the case the building would have to be 100% occupied, and leases would have to cover expenses like operating costs and capital maintenance.

CAO Lanie Hurdle said Kingston doesn’t have the HR capacity to take this on and additional staff would be necessary, and said the budget of $10 million is “most likely not sufficient” with the incentive costs to recruit family physicians expected to continue to be needed in spite of the facility.

Ultimately Hurdle, and the majority of council, said that facility space is not the issue when it comes to Kingston’s physician shortage.

“On Princess Street alone between 2 or 3 buildings there is 20,000 square feet that is currently available that could be leased for healthcare,” Hurdle said.

“Obviously what we’re struggling to get is the actual providers.”

Staff said that in the existing plan, which would see part of the building become a primary care clinic, converting the section of the building in order to house a clinic is expected to be the biggest expense, and that doing so for the whole building while accommodating a variety of needs for practitioners would prove to be costly.

Several councillors questioned just how much of a plan there actually was in what was being presented, as a number of factors seemed to lack certainty.

Councillor Greg Ridge said that council shouldn’t move away from the affordable housing targets they all committed to unanimously, and that the plan as presented on Tuesday night was not fleshed out enough to give reason for deviation.

“We don’t have a guarantee that the capital costs will be enough to cover the project, we don’t have guarantees that there will not be significant operational costs incurred by the municipality for the direct administration of healthcare which is a provincial responsibility, we don’t have the guarantee that if we move forward with this plan family doctors will sign onto it,” Ridge said.

“We have an existing plan that is the result of hard work from staff and community partners… we have a housing crisis.”

McLaren said voting down the motion would be refusing to look at a possible solution due to “disinformation from some around here” but ultimately only Councillor Lisa Osanic voted alongside him as the motion was outvoted 11-2.

A new Integrated Care Hub?

McLaren has been against the city’s proposed direction since the building sale was finalized, saying concerns were raised at the idea of AMHS being involved, even before any plans were made official.

In February, he said his constituents had concerns that the proposal would essentially make the area the site of the new Integrated Care Hub, and with that would come crime and safety concerns.

“They don’t want this neighborhood ruined with crime,” McLaren said.

“Pretty much everything that could possibly go in there is going to detrimentally affect the safety of that trail, the park in the area, the conservation area, and their homes.”

In the city’s information page on the property, they say a Consumption Services site like that at the ICH is not being considered.

At Tuesday’s council meeting CAO Lanie Hurdle outlined the 3 components the plan includes: a primary care clinic which is expected to be able to take 8,000-10,000 patients, transitional housing, and a community space that can be used by not-for profit organizations in the city.

The targeted demographic of the transitional housing units are people aged 55 or older on the By Name List in Kingston, as well as unhoused individuals released from hospital with further health care needs.

Mayor Bryan Paterson said that while stories heard from delegations are heart wrenching and the need is great, the motion might even put more pressure on public healthcare systems by putting those people back on the streets.

He said the synergy that Councillor McLaren said his motion would promote is already in the city’s proposed plan.

“It’s very clear that this is about reducing the amount of transitional housing or supportive housing solutions by, like, 36%,” Paterson said.

“I think we need to give space for this city plan that has been developed… this motion is basically to try to stop that city plan that has been in process for the last few months from going forward, I think that’s the wrong move.”

The City anticipates taking hold of the former Extendicare facility in September, with interior renovations expected to take several months.

An operational plan will be presented to council in late summer/early fall.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporterhttp://ygknews.ca
Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, Owen has been living in Kingston for about three years after starting the band Willy Nilly. Prior to that he worked at CKLB radio in Yellowknife and completed studies in Niagara College's Broadcasting program.

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