Many remember the sometimes-tense negotiations in the mid-90s between Thunder Bay and the then-Ministry of Health over how to approach a new hospital. The major difference of opinion was the Province’s plan to refurbish either McKellar Hospital or Port Arthur General Hospital, and the City’s desire to build a new hospital easily accessible from both sides of the city. Keith Jobbitt, who was then Chair of the Hospital Board, remembers it well.
“A new site was the best way to go to put in what we needed to accommodate all of our needs,” Jobbitt said. It was also vitally important to get the citizens of Thunder Bay to unite behind one project. “The people in Fort William weren’t going to support a Port Arthur location, and vice versa. When our proposal went to plebiscite, 84% of the people in Thunder Bay supported municipal funding for a new, centrally located hospital.”
By the time the new Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre opened on February 22, 2004, Jobbitt had been working on the project in various capacities for 18 years. He had initially joined the St. Joseph’s Hospital Board of Directors in 1984. Soon after, talk began of amalgamating acute care services into one location. Jobbitt joined the Hospital Planning Council and eventually became chair. He also helped create a grassroots committee called COACH: Citizens for One Acute Care Hospital.
As we know now, that vision succeeded. Although it was partly thanks to people like Jobbitt and the hundreds of others who worked hard on bring that project to life, Jobbitt said that the biggest difference was the generosity of the residents. The City of Thunder Bay committed $25 million to the project through a special tax levy supported by the residents of Thunder Bay, the two hospital foundations committed a combined $12 million, and the Care Beyond Compare Campaign, chaired by Don Wing, raised another $19 million, surpassing its goal.
“The community and region put together over $55 million towards the cost of the new hospital. That was unheard of for a region of our size to make that kind of commitment,” Jobbitt said. Without it, the hospital may never have been built. “I think that went a long way to convince the Ministry that we were serious.”
As significant as the project was in itself, the academic health sciences centre led to other important advances in Thunder Bay: the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute (Jobbitt was its first Board Chair), and indirectly the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University.
The new hospital also led to more advanced healthcare treatments. For example, today almost all cancer patients can get their treatment in Northwestern Ontario. Now, a new plan is in the works to create Ontario’s newest cardiovascular surgery program right here in Thunder Bay.
“We started out building a new acute care hospital, and now we’ve grown to become a regional academic health sciences centre. It’s a great evolution,” Jobbitt said.
That growth comes thanks to the continued support of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation’s generous donors, including Jobbitt himself. Before his retirement, he supported the Foundation through his law firm, Shaffer Jobbitt. Today, he and his wife Donna continue to be generous donors to many hospital projects.
“We should all feel proud that we set out to get ourselves a new hospital, and we did so, surpassing all fundraising expectations. The people of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario always seem to come through.”