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Walkerton group seeks to expedite hospice project

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A Walkerton-area group is setting wheels in motion to get a residential hospice built faster in the community.

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The project has been under the wing of Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce Inc., which operates Chapman House in Owen Sound. Friday RHGB issued a news release saying the project would be on hold for up to a year due to COVID cost increases.

But Carl Kuhnke in Walkerton said 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 announced in January 2019 for the project.

He estimated Saugeen Hospice Inc., likely to be half the size of Chapman House, could be opened within three years under this renewed effort. He is the chief executive officer of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre but is volunteering his time toward the hospice cause, he said Friday.

“There is a lot of impetus down here and we’ve got a lot of great minds and good people that are going to get this thing going.”

Kuhnke joined the RHGB board in December but resigned a few weeks ago to implement this renewed effort to complete the project, in collaboration with the Owen Sound-based hospice board, he said.

Alex Hector, executive director of Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce, said there has been no formal board discussion of the possible handover of the project to the community group but the board is aware of these efforts.

“There is a community interest group that believes that they can make this satellite happen faster,” Hector said.

“And if they are able to get all of the proper legal authorities in place, the board of RHGB would be, I think, more than willing to sit down with them and discuss a collaborative approach to making it happen faster.”

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He said efforts to establish a residential hospice in southern Grey-Bruce predate the incorporation of Residential Hospice Grey Bruce, which then took up the project.

Brockton council has offered to donate about four acres of land by the water tower in Walkerton for the new hospice.

Hector said RHGB issued its news release Friday to announce the satellite hospice project pause, in recognition of the “huge amount of enthusiasm in the community” for the project in south Grey-Bruce.

“We didn’t want to frustrate them because of the challenges that we’re having with the pandemic. So we thought we really had to make a statement to say here’s why we’re not acting as quickly as you would like.”

Since the pandemic, construction costs have soared. The satellite hospice project was initially estimated to cost $5 million to $6 million and now it’s probably in the $8 million to $10 million range.

“The last year of the pandemic has brought unforeseen and formidable challenges to us all,” RHGB chair Paul Rowcliffe is quoted saying in a news release. “Priorities have had to change to meet the realities of the pandemic, and the same is true for RHGB.”

Rowcliffe said the organization remains committed to the satellite hospice project but it has to take a “‘cautious pause’ until the pandemic winds down and the economy stabilizes.

“As such, the board has taken the decision to suspend the work of the fundraising and build committees for up to 12 months.”

Provincial funding only covers about half of Residential Hospice Grey Bruce’s operating costs. It fundraises the rest every year and this year’s goal is $1.2 million.

Chapman House served 308 residents and their families between April 2019 and March 2021, 62 individuals, or 20 per cent of the total, from southern Grey-Bruce including Durham, Hanover, Walkerton, Mildmay and Formosa.

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