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Ahtahkakoop and the province take the next step at Saskatoon Emergency Centre

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A much-needed emergency centre in Saskatoon is one step closer to becoming a reality.

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As the need to address Saskatchewan's health care challenges has increased significantly in recent months, the construction of a much-needed urgent care centre in Saskatoon has moved another step closer to reality.

Ahtahkakoop Cree Developments (ACD) and the provincial government announced Wednesday the signing of a preliminary project development agreement for their proposed care centre at the former Pleasant Hill School site on Saskatoon's west side.

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The need for such a facility has been in the spotlight recently. Last fall, the province launched a series of action plans to address capacity constraints at Saskatoon and Regina hospitals to address long-standing problems such as rising patient volumes, space and staff shortages, emergency department overcrowding and patients having to be treated in hospital hallways or triaged for treatment.

Any reinforcement that gives people a better experience in the health care system is welcome, officials say.

“We are committed to improving the health and well-being of our community and the broader community of Saskatoon and surrounding areas,” said Larry Ahenakew, Chief of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, on Wednesday.

The area around Pleasant Hill School will be demolished as part of the planned construction of an emergency centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)
The area around Pleasant Hill School will be demolished as part of the planned construction of an emergency centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix) Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The emergency centre, he added, “is a vital resource that provides accessible, quality health care to those in need” and also provides “training, jobs and economic benefits to First Nations people.”

The province and Ahtahkakoop Cree Developments announced a memorandum of understanding for an emergency response centre at the former school site in 2022. A tentative agreement was signed in April 2023 for the two parties to jointly develop the centre.

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The site at 215 Avenue S South is one block from St. Paul's Hospital. The province purchased the site in December 2022 and the city later granted a demolition permit. The site is large enough to accommodate the new urgent care center, and its proximity to St. Paul's is expected to help relieve capacity pressures in the emergency department.

The facility will provide mental health support and an alternative to emergency rooms for people with non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. The UCC will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In a statement, Prime Minister Scott Moe said the centre was “a critical component” of providing health services that meet the needs of the population.

“This unique partnership with Ahtahkakoop Cree Developments allows us to do this in a way that also ensures future economic benefits for the First Nations,” added Moe.

Planning work has begun on the new facility, the province said. The project development agreement will allow designs and preparations for construction to be completed. According to the province, all land needed for the project – including land adjacent to the former school – has been purchased.

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Demolition of the additional buildings, removal of hazardous building materials, final backfill and leveling are expected to be completed by the end of this month, with construction expected to begin in the fall.

The emergency centre is operated by the Saskatchewan Health Authority under a long-term lease with Ahtahkakoop Cree Developments.

Terry Jenson, minister of SaskBuilds and Procurement, said the two parties are not just building a structure, “we are building bridges of collaboration, understanding and shared goals.”

“This moment symbolizes our shared commitment to ensuring that every Saskatchewan citizen has access to the health care they deserve.”

Construction of an emergency centre in Regina was recently completed and the facility is expected to open this summer after staff are on site and their training is complete.

Health Minister Everett Hindley said the Saskatoon care centre will help patients who cannot wait until the next day for treatment but do not necessarily need the emergency room.

He stressed the importance of “matching the right patient to the right healthcare provider at the right time.”

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