06/05/2012 12:43 EDT | Updated 08/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Plans for new health facility in Regina across from where hospital once stood

REGINA - More than a decade after one of its hospitals was shut down, there are plans for a new health facility in the Saskatchewan capital.

Premier Brad Wall has announced approval in principle for a centre in Regina that would provide outpatient surgery, diagnostic imaging, cancer care and other services not requiring an overnight stay.

Wall said it should help ease pressure on the city's two hospitals, where overcrowding and waits for surgery are an issue.

"The problems we have in Regina are serious problems in terms of periodic, and lately more than periodic, demand on the facilities," Wall said at a news conference Tuesday.

Officials hope the new Plains Surgery and Outpatient Care Centre will be designed and built in about 30 months.

It is to be located on Crown-owned land opposite the old Plains hospital, which became a campus for the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.

The new facility is expected to cost between $50 million and $60 million. The province will fund half, Wall said.

Dwight Nelson, CEO of the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, said a good chunk of the operating costs are already included in the region's budget for outpatient procedures.

"We do over 40,000 outpatient procedures (or) visits a year," said Nelson.

"We can imagine that a lot of those ... anything that doesn't require an overnight stay, we'd want to put on the table in the planning phases and say: 'Does it make sense to keep it in our busy hospitals that are overstressed and pretty tough to park at, or does it make sense to have it in a place where people can navigate their way around?'"

The Saskatchewan Party government is trying to cut surgical wait times. The goal is to provide all patients with an opportunity to have surgery within three months by 2014.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan stressed that the new centre is not a hospital.

"The scope of the facility, at this point, doesn't contemplate things like an emergency room (or) the other services that are offered by what we would consider a hospital under the regulations. The point of this facility is to move some of those outpatient procedures away from the two tertiary care centres," he said.

The former Plains hospital, which served most of southern Saskatchewan, closed in 1998. The NDP government of the time was restructuring health care because it needed to cut costs.

Wall said that was the wrong move.

"Decisions were taken in the '90s that we are paying for today in terms of the right complement of health-care professionals and in some cases facilities," he said.

"This is one in particular (where) I think the closure ... has caused since then a lot of pressure on the two tertiary hospitals left in the city and impacted the southern part of the province."