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City, hospital at loggerheads

Published on

Marco Vigliotti

Sarnia’s mayor says he’s concerned about the fraying relationship between city hall and Bluewater Health with a legal battle looming over ownership of the vacant Sarnia general hospital site.

City council has retained the law firm of Cohen Highley to investigate the dispute after Bluewater Health’s board said it would stop paying $400,000 annually for maintenance and security at the former Mitton Street hospital by year-end.

The hospital says the city, as owner of the building and land, should be responsible for footing the annual maintenance costs.

The city maintains it owns the land but it is not obligated to cover expenses on the building itself.

“(I’m) concerned about the relationship impact,” Bradley said. “Hope the board of the hospital thought through the ramifications before taking their actions on the relationship, fundraising in the community, and other issues that the hospital and city mutually share.”

He said Sarnia has acted in good faith toward Bluewater Health and was a key partner in campaigns that sought provincial support, including advocacy for the new hospital and pressuring Ontario to cover the full demolition cost of the old one.

Bradley said the cost of seeking a legal opinion was small, but expressed concern about the potential for mounting legal fees if the dispute winds up in court.

A city report estimates court assistance from the law firm could cost $30,000 to $40,000.

Bradley said council has requested a meeting of senior staff from both sides.

Lorri Kerrigan, chair of the hospital board, said in a statement the committee reached out to the city in anticipation of council hiring lawyers and is working to secure a meeting date.

Five local investors want to redevelop the empty hospital building into a health campus, with potential tenants including health agency offices, clinics and pharmacies.

One of the investors, Kenn Poore, told The Journal the group doesn’t wish to comment on the dispute at this time.

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