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Residential Hospice GB issues 'clarification letter' regarding Walkerton project

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Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce says it has paused – not cancelled – its project to build a satellite location in Walkerton and no agreements have been made to transfer funds already donated for the project to another organization.

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Board chair Paul Rowcliffe, in a letter to local media Wednesday, said while some groups have expressed an interest in picking up the project during the one-year pause, announced in April, the board hasn’t signed any agreements to accept funds on behalf of another entity for the project beyond June 30 or hand over restricted funds to another group.

“We are aware that statements have been made to our partners, local hospital CEOs, municipal and provincial governments and the general public that contradict this. It is for this reason we are providing this clarification letter,” he wrote.

While the letter does not mention a specific group, RHGB executive director Janet Fairbridge confirmed, when asked Friday, that the organization’s concerns relate to Saugeen Hospice Inc.

She said the letter was intended to provide “clarity for the community” about the restricted funds – the $1.8 million in provincial funding approved in 2019 for the satellite hospice and donations raised so far for the project.

“We’re trying to be as open and transparent as we can for our community and to be able to say that this particular group does not have any written agreement with Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce at this time,” she said.

Saugeen Hospice spokesperson Carl Kuhnke acknowledged Friday that no agreement exists or has been discussed to transfer the restricted funds from RHGB to the Saugeen Hospice.

He said he is not aware of any statements made by members of Saugeen Hospice suggesting otherwise.

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“Ideally, what we would like to do is to negotiate a strategic collaboration with the Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce to get this going because I think all of our interests is to get a hospice built down here,” he said.

“But, no definitely not, we don’t have an agreement with them. Neither is there an agreement to transfer the funds that are currently sitting there for the south build. Would we like to? Absolutely. Have we entered into any kind of discussions or negotiations with them about that? Not at this point.”

Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce, which operates the eight-bed Chapman House in Owen Sound, announced in January 2019 that the province had confirmed $1.8 million for a six-bed satellite hospice in southern Bruce County.

Brockton officially donated 3.5 acres in Walkerton for the build in September 2019 and two months later, RHGB created a committee to raise capital funds for the project.

In March 2020, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the “south satellite fundraising committee” said it was reviewing fundraising options, such as grants, for the project and creating a subcommittee to manage the build and determine the project’s total cost.

RHGB announced a month later – after the pandemic took hold – that the fundraising committee would shift its focus to support Chapman House “during this time.”

A year later, RHGB said its board had made the “difficult decision” to pause the development of the satellite project. Citing rapidly rising construction costs, the work of both the fundraising and build committees were suspended for up to one year.

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However, the organization said it remained committed to the project and all donations collected would be held in a segregated account until the project moves forward.

The Saugeen Hospice group then formed with the goal of seeing the Walkerton hospice built sooner.

Kuhnke told The Sun Times in late April that there’s a lot of will and enthusiasm among his group to incorporate, obtain charitable status, raise money and negotiate a transfer with RHGB of $1.8 million in provincial funds.

He estimated Saugeen Hospice could be opened within three years under the renewed effort.

On Friday, Kuhnke said Saugeen Hospice has now incorporated, a 12-person board has formed and the organization is working to receive charitable status. Two of its board members, including Kuhnke, used to be members of the RHGB board.

“It’s not an antagonistic thing that’s happening down here. It’s a bunch of individuals that have been working hard to get this hospice going that want to try and move it faster to the stage of planning and building,” he said.

The organization is holding a Golf Fore Hospice June 22 for the satellite hospice. The event has sold out, Kuhnke said, noting last year’s event raised $80,000.

The event is being held as part of an agreement with RHGB, he said.

Rowcliffe’s letter says the board decided in March to pause fundraising for the satellite hospice as of June 30. RHGB is supporting third-party fundraisers occurring before then, but is not taking an active role in those events. No activities will happen in the name of RHGB after June 30, the letter says, “until such a time as the board of directors has an opportunity to determine how best to move forward with this project.”

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Fairbridge confirmed Golf Fore Hospice is a fundraiser for the satellite hospice and she’s working with the organizers of that third-party event.

“Donations that will be generated for that event will be held for the proposed project,” she said.

Fairbridge said all options remain on the table for the satellite hospice, including RHGB proceeding later with the build.

“This is simply a pause. It’s simply to be able to say, the Residential Hospice Grey Bruce board needs to be able to go back and relook at what the plans were. It’s very well known that construction costs internationally have gone through the roof, so any numbers that were previously planned for need to be readdressed in the new realities we find ourselves in,” she said.

“The board has asked for 12 months to step back and relook at what the plans have been up to this stage and to be able to make a well-informed and conscious decision going forward as to what is the next best plan for the community.”

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