After a decade of delays, there's now debate on where James Bay hospital should be built

There is no debate that at nearly 70 years old, the Weeneebayko General Hospital in Moose Factory is showing its age and leaning towards retirement.

“It’s got three floors, no elevator and a wooden roof. And we’re on an island,” says president and CEO Lynne Innes.

But not everyone agrees that the new hospital should be built on the mainland in nearby Moosonee, as planned.

“A decision has been made, but we’re still going to work at trying to make it happen here in Moose Factory,” says Mervin Cheechoo, the chief of Moose Cree First Nation, who says he has the support of other leaders from other coastal communities.

“The concern I think was that the feds were passing it over to the provincial. Like, we’re federal. And they are the ones who promised in the treaty that we would prosper, so we want to hold them accountable to that.”

The federal and provincial governments have been promising a new hospital since 2007, when an estimated opening date was set at 2010.

The pledge was renewed in 2017, when it was included in the Ontario Liberal budget and called a government “priority.”

Moose Cree Chief Mervin Cheechoo believes that the federal government will be less accountable to James Bay First Nations if the area hospital is moved to provincial land. (Erik White/CBC )

Moosonee Mayor Wayne Taipale fears that a dispute over where the hospital goes could scare government dollars away.

“I’m worried because any day they can pull that funding out,” he says.

“Politics and health care should be kind of separate.”

Taipale says having the hospital in Moosonee would be good for his town, but also good for the health care needs of the entire region.

Wayne Taipale is the mayor of Moosonee. (Erik White/CBC)

Right now, patients coming into Moosonee by plane from further up the coast or by train from the south, sometimes have to wait for transport over to Moose Factory Island by boat or helicopter.

Taipale says he’s seen patients in wheelchairs and propped up on crutches waiting on a dock in the rain and there are times when they have to spend the night in an airport hangar or in their airplane seat. 

“It’s very frustrating when I see the health care going backwards instead of forward,” he says.

“I think that after we get the shovel and go and get moving the better.” 

Patients arriving in Moosonee by plane or train, currently have to be brought over to the hospital on Moose Factory Island by boat or helicopter, depending on the weather conditions on the Moose River. (Erik White/CBC)

The Weeneebayko Health Authority says the location debate is not holding up the hospital. 

Innes says negotiations continue with the federal and provincial governments to determine what the new hospital will include and how much it will cost. 

But there is still no estimated date yet on when it might open to patients. 

Lynne Innes is the CEO and President of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. (Weeneebayko Area Health Authority )

Innes is pleased that after years of being “stuck” at phase one of the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care’s planning process, the hospital was recently moved up to phase two.

“I think it’ll make a huge difference especially for our communities on the coast and the coastal sites,” Innes says of the new hospital.

“It’ll improve their access to care. They’ll be closer to home.”

These 12 hectares in the south end of Moosonee is currently the chosen site for a new James Bay regionial hospital. (Erik White/CBC)

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