Coboconk Wellness Centre: Village area could see doctors, other health professionals

By Kirk Winter

Coboconk Wellness Centre report proposes multi-million dollar facility  
"This is a small investment in the future of Kawartha Lakes." Photo: Roderick Benns.

If ward one residents Jennifer Wilson and Ian Forster have their way, Coboconk and area will soon have its own wellness centre, complete with family doctors.

The two presented a feasibility study that was commissioned almost a year ago by council regarding the construction of a Coboconk Wellness Centre.

Forster shared that the northern regions of Kawartha Lakes “are dealing with a gap in health care service. The hospitals in Minden and Lindsay are too far away, and there are no services available in the evening for residents.”

The community is firmly behind the project, says Forster, with Dr. Warsi and the Coboconk Pharmacy wanting to be part of this new build project. Retailers such as Medigas and lab testing companies have also expressed interest and are sharing space in the new facility if it is built.

Forster explains that providing medical care in ward one has always been an issue with doctors coming and going. The area was experiencing upheaval pre-COVID-19, and with 50 per cent of the area over the age of 50, this issue is going to worsen.

The need for local medical services will increase post-pandemic, he says, as local snowbirds are no longer planning to travel and will now be living in the area through the winter.

He shared that local real estate agents have had more inquires than there is existing property for sale in the area as individuals from the GTA are looking for an escape from urban living. Ward one, in their eyes, “is a perfect area to re-locate to.”

The feasibility study group looked at four locations for the new facility, and the Coboconk Train Station and Legion Park scored the highest. The committee likes the fact that this location is in Coboconk to encourage foot traffic.

The 100-acre lot is located directly off Hwy 35, which will make access to the proposed wellness centre convenient for patients. The committee is also supportive of this location because the city already owns the property, limiting the possibility of the site being sold to someone else while the group waits for funding from all three levels of government.

Long-term care as part of scenario?

Forster also mentioned that with the lot being so large, expansion in the future is possible with something like a long-term care home fitting in with the wellness centre quite nicely.

The committee has commissioned architectural drawings from ERA, the architect of choice for many projects involving heritage structures. The drawings presented combine the wellness centre and the Coboconk train station into one seamless community hub.

Various city departments have looked at the project in generalities and report “there are no impediments to the program moving forward.”

Forster suggested that if shovels go in the ground March 2021, the building would be ready for occupancy 14 months later. The building will have over 14,000 square feet of space, and cost as much as $6 million. Forster said the plans are already being fine tuned to reduce costs from the initial architect estimates.

The committee hopes they can reduce costs to somewhere under $5 million with the communities that will be impacted by the wellness centre committing to raise $1 million of the cost locally. The remaining funds are expected to come from the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Forster said 25 local stakeholder groups have signed on to support the building of the wellness centre including local BIAs, service clubs and seniors groups. He added that the presence of just one doctor in a community can spur between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in economic development for the affected area.

Forster says there is “a real need to improve local care and keep people out of emergency departments. It will also eliminate travel worries for seniors particularly when the weather is bad.”

Mayor Andy Letham was very supportive of the presentation saying, “This is not just a ward one project. This is a Kawartha Lakes project. This wellness centre will take pressure off both Ross Memorial Hospital and Minden General Hospital, benefitting the whole city.”

Councillor Emmett Yeo asked the group to share the level of consultation that went on in Ward One regarding this project.

Wilson notes there were three public meetings, “each attended by over 150 people. There were another 450 on-line and written responses from people in ward one.”

She shares the committee went to Omemee, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay, Woodville and Lakefield looking at the best practices followed in establishing those clinics, and they learned much.

If it’s built, will they come?

Yeo wanted to know how they would get doctors to come once the wellness centre is built?

The presenters note the local doctor retention group told them the idea of a joint practice like this is very attractive to young doctors. The group approach is found to be very supportive for newly graduated medical students. These professionals do “not want to be out there on an island by themselves.”

The presenters are hopeful “that if all the services a doctor might need are there, doctors will come.”

Councillor Pat O’Reilly asked the presenters about updates regarding provincial and federal funding.  The presenters said MPP Laurie Scott shared with them that the project has to be supported strongly by the municipality first, and once it has council’s buy-in the province will consider it.

Letham asked if the $6 million quote included land and building, or just the building. The presenters stated the quote was just for the construction of the wellness centre. Any land costs would be additional.

Yeo told council, “This is a small investment in the future of Kawartha Lakes. I look forward to the report that staff bring back in the fall.”

Letham supported the project being sent to staff for a recommendation at the end of the third quarter so that numbers are available to be factored in for budgeting in 2021.

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