WILKIE-- Many past and present board members gathered in the Wilkie curling rink lounge Sept. 15 to recognize the creation of the Wilkie and District Health Foundation 25 years earlier.
In its 25 years of operation, the foundation has provided total funding in the amount of $805,703 for and to health-related causes in the Wilkie area – everything from funds to help recruit physicians and registered nurses; to furnishings and upgrades at the Wilkie Health Centre, Poplar Courts and Bethany Assisted Living; to purchase of AEDs (automated external defibrillators) for different places in town; to construction of the STARS helipad, and more.
The first meeting of the foundation was held Sept. 15, 1998. Four of the original eight members were present at the 25th anniversary event: Margaret Skinner, Bill Sittler, Julie Brooks and Annette Gutting. The other four persons who helped establish the organization were Wally Lorenz, Randy Single, Henry Gutting and Francis Love.
Skinner, who was the first chairperson, shared some history of how and why the foundation was started and where the first funds went. A few years earlier, in the mid 1990s, Wilkie “was rocked by the news that our hospital would be closed as part of the amalgamation of facilities planned by the Greenhead Health District,” she said.
The news led to an informal group being formed, Friends of the Wilkie Hospital, consisting of Skinner, Lorenz, Brooks, Sittler, Love and Kathy Heilman. That group retained a lawyer to fight the closure in court, Ken Stevenson, who was successful in overturning the initial closure order.
“But,” said Skinner, “the victory only slowed the process, the writing was on the wall. Perhaps the most positive outcome of our legal action was the indication to all concerned that we were determined to save as many of our health services as possible.”
When the plans for the construction of the Wilkie Health Centre were presented, the Friends insisted on increasing the number of patient rooms and enlarging the ambulance bay. The Greenhead board then asked for $200,000 to be raised locally for the revised plans.
The Wilkie and District Health Foundation was created in order to raise the money, but of course fundraising doesn’t happen overnight. The foundation executive was able to convince the Greenhead Health District board to provide $100,000 of the needed funds in five annual instalments of $20,000 each “since,” said Skinner, “this community had been left without a health-related savings account.”
A loan was sought for the other $100,000, and gratefully received from Battleford’s credit union.
Skinner said, “With the money in hand, the construction proceeded. The Wilkie Health Centre opened, and the loan was paid off as planned.”
The current executive of the Wilkie and District Health Foundation are Sharon Jaindl, chairperson; Kevin Kowalchuk, vice-chair; Stacy Hawkins, treasurer; and Andria Gutting, secretary. Other board members are Dean Skinner, Lana Gerein, Laurie Cey, Jim Exley, Marion Schell, Jessica Enns and Gwen Culbertson.
Jaindl also spoke at the anniversary celebration, summarizing some of the funds donated over the years, including “to date $80,000 towards electric beds and that continues to be our priority going forward. We continue to buy new beds for Poplar Courts.” A major donation, in 2019, was $175,000 for the digital X-ray machine.
Jaindl thanked all the former board members present, saying “without your commitment to the foundation in the past, we would not be here where we are today. Also thank you to the Towns of Wilkie and the Town of Scott, surrounding RMs as well as their residents for their ongoing financial support as this has made it possible for the foundation to continue to meet its goals each year.”
Jaindl concluded, “As health care costs continue to rise and resources diminish, the foundation’s role will only be more essential to support quality health care in our community and, with everyone’s assistance, we, the foundation, will continue to provide that support to the best of our abilities, hopefully for another 25 years.”
After the formal part of the evening, group photos of board members were taken before a time of socializing and reminiscing.
Anyone interested in serving on the board of the Wilkie and District Health Foundation is encouraged to reach out to any of the current board. Donations are always welcome and can be dropped off at the town office or mailed to Box 580, Wilkie, SK S0K 4W0.