Years of work culminated in what some called a "wow" day for the people of the Humboldt area on April 1.
Approximately 300 people from all over the region came out to celebrate the grand opening of the Humboldt District Health Complex (HDHC) on April 1, 15 years after work on replacing the present hospital began, and nearly 100 years after the construction started on Humboldt's first hospital.
Almost a century ago, the Sisters of St. Elizabeth founded the first hospital in the community. The two-storey brick building was just 52 feet by 54 feet, but had room for 18 beds.
And it was in April 1996 that the now-defunct Central Plains Health District struck a committee to start the planning process for a new facility to replace the current building, constructed in 1955. But delay after delay meant that construction did not start on that new facility until late summer in 2008.
The new HDHC, an integrated facility, includes not only the Humboldt District Hospital (HDH), but Community Health Services and room for administration offices. In size it is 7,458 square metres or 80,000 square feet, and cost $40 million to build.
The provincial government provided $26 million toward planning and construction of the HDHC. Local funding for construction came from the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) ($3.1 million), the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation (HDHF) ($1 million) and from area municipalities and previous hospital reserves ($9.9 million). The HDHF also raised $2.5 million for furnishings and equipment.
Now the building is finally done.
A stage full of dignitaries cut the ribbon to officially open the facility at a ceremony on April 1, though services will not be offered from the new building until later in the month.
"It's hard to believe this day has come," said Yvonne Berscheid, site manager for the HDH, at the commencement of the opening ceremonies.
Despite the fact that the opening was held on April Fool's Day, "it's not a joke," she grinned.
Premier Brad Wall, as he stepped up to the podium, showed the audience notes written for the speakers, reminding them to "look up" and "smile."
"We don't need a piece of paper to remind us to smile today in Humboldt," he laughed.
The City of Humboldt, he noted, is "like a poster child for the new Saskatchewan," for what he called "The Saskatchewan Advantage."
It's not just about the economy, he said, it's about quality of life.
"We seek growth so we can invest in quality of life."
Wall pointed out that the 10 day surgery beds at the new HDH will help with surgical wait times across the province.
"The government is committed to the renewal of vital infrastructure across the province," Wall said. "We are working with Saskatchewan health regions to put patients first by making health facilities safer and more comfortable, reducing wait times and improving the quality and efficiency of services."
Fifteen specialists currently come to Humboldt to conduct itinerant clinics, and the HDHC has the capacity to do a number of day surgeries and procedures that patients around the province tend to wait for.
Wall thanked the community for their patience and hard work in making this day possible, singling out the front line health care workers for special thanks.
Mayor of Humboldt Malcolm Eaton spoke on behalf of the 29 municipalities who provided funding for the construction of the HDHC.
"We have been on the journey to build this new hospital in Humboldt for many years, and like any journey, there were hills to climb, some rough roads, some turns and detours along the way, and the odd pothole - and in our case, sometimes some water hazards - but like any important journey, the destination is always worth the trip. Today we have arrived. And it is time to celebrate everyone who has been a part of that journey and helped us along the way," Eaton stated.
Eaton thanked the government of Saskatchewan, former Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) chair Darlene Eberle of Humboldt for her leadership, the architects from LM Architectural group, Wright Construction, and the local SHR staff for their contributions.
"What a bright, beautiful and impressive facility. I really like the Roughrider green down the Main Street," Eaton smiled, referring to the building's public street or main corridor.
"The City of Humboldt is extremely proud of the fact that we have a new hospital in our city, but also very humbled and respectful and appreciative of the support this hospital project has received from our friends and partners in the RMs, villages and towns of our district. This truly is the Humboldt district's health complex," Eaton noted.
So many in the community have supported and worked on this project over many years, Eaton continued, including the members of a variety of boards and the staff.
"The results of that hard work are evident in this new hospital," he said.
Eaton especially noted the contributions of Humboldt's former mayor, Dennis Korte.
"Dennis was the mayor at a time when the project needed funding and more funding and his leadership with our city council and the other communities was instrumental in moving this project forward."
Eaton was also sure to recognize the legacy of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth when it comes to health care in this area.
"The legacy... started 100 years ago with the dedication, commitment, sacrifice, community service, hard work, compassion, dream, vision, the mission and the health services ministry of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth," Eaton said.
Murals showcasing this legacy are on the walls of the public street in the HDHC.
"Everyone who walks down the main street of this hospital will know where the legacy of health care in this community originated," he noted.
"I am very proud of our province, our city, our business community and the many friends and neighbours in our district who have made this hospital a reality. We can accomplish many things when we work together," Eaton concluded.
Seeing that community support behind this project confirmed for Colleen Christensen, vice chair of the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority, "that having health care close to home is very important."
The HDHC is more than just a building, she added - it's a place to receive care. She thanked the physicians and staff for their "patience in the construction period and the lengthy anticipation period."
"This combined health facility is evidence that it is possible to offer high-quality regional health services in rural areas," noted Humboldt MLA Donna Harpauer.
The completion of this project, which took hard work, co-operation and leadership, is going to move Humboldt forward, Harpauer believes.
It's a building, she said, that we should be proud of, one for which the community has waited for much too long.
"We worked hard for it. We're going to enjoy it," she smiled.
"It's not every day we see a dream come true. That's what has happened today," said Maura Davies, president and CEO of Saskatoon Health Region.
The opening of the new facility marks a new era for health care in Humboldt, she continued.
Gone are the days when women were carried to the surgical floor because the ward was on a different floor. Gone are the days of ambulances parking outside the ambulance bay because they no longer fit inside.
But more than a physical change, she said, the building is a symbol of the exceptional care people can expect here from the health care professionals.
The health care employees and physicians in Humboldt have really taken ownership of this new building, she stated. The architects have informed her, in fact, that they have never seen this level of staff input in a project before.
"An integrated health facility such as the Humboldt District Health Complex is a good example of how Saskatoon Health Region puts patients first," Davies added. "This approach supports exceptional service and client-centred care. We want to ensure that when people need health services, they can access many of the services in one place, with care providers working together to meet the needs of clients and their families."
Davies has visited and evaluated health care facilities across the country, and the HDHC scores high in her books.
"I can tell you it does not get any better than this," she stated.
The flow the building, the bright light and soft colours will create a healing environment, she feels.
Pat Witt of the HDHF stated that the Foundation committed to raising $3.5 million for this project over a decade ago - $2.5 million for equipment and another $1 million to go towards construction.
They had the full amount raised a few years ago, but due to ongoing needs for equipment at the hospital, the HDHF had to get some more money together last year, and raised another $1.8 million for equipment between 2009 and 2010.
That amounts to $5.5 million over a nine year period, Witt said.
The biggest donor to their campaigns was PotashCorp, who pledged $500,000 in matching funds, which raised $1 million for the HDHF in six months.
Garth Moore of PotashCorp was at the opening of the new hospital. The HDHC, he noted, is just one of the projects they have support in the province, because they wanted to help the people here. About 25 per cent of their 550 employees at the Lanigan mine live in Humboldt, he said.
The HDHC is a huge building; bigger, it seems, than many expected.
Inside the HDHC, the HDH has 34 inpatient beds, plus a four-bed observation area and 10 day-surgery spaces, and expanded ambulatory care and emergency space.
There are two operating theatres, though one will be used as a procedure room and the other for surgeries, as typically, there is only one surgeon at the hospital at any given time.
There is increased capacity for resident and visiting surgeons, diagnostics, and for outpatients.
Humboldt is the smallest community in the province to have the digital Picture Archiving and Communications System or PACS, so that doctors can view diagnostic tests such as X-rays on a computer.
The HDHC is also home to the only sterile processing department in the rural Saskatoon Health Region. As such, this department has state-of-the-art, up-to-date equipment and the staff have been trained in the latest technology and procedures, and will provide service to all the rural hospital sites in the SHR.
The material management department of the HDHC will also provide supplies for 18 rural facilities in the SHR.
One thing the new HDH does not have is a laundry - that service is being centralized outside of Humboldt.
The new HDHC does have a cafeteria they hope will attract more patients and families than the present cafeteria, which is located in the basement of the old hospital. They also have conference rooms that can be accessed by the community.
The Community Services area houses public health nursing and inspections, health promotion, offices for specialties like speech language pathology, early childhood psychology, hearing aid plan, and dental health eduction, as well as expanded community oncology, therapies, chronic disease management programs, mental health and addictions, home care and palliative care.
The move into the new facility now begins, with the emergency room opening on April 12.
As for the old HDH, once the historic artwork and fixtures are removed, it will be demolished.
For additional photos, see Photo Galleries.