Province kicks in $37M for new health institute at St. Francis Xavier University

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston speaks to a group of nursing students at St. Francis Xavier University on Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston speaks to a group of nursing students at St. Francis Xavier University on Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston capped off three days of health care-related spending at universities this week with a $37.4-million announcement at St. Francis Xavier University.

The money will help launch a new research institute focused on rural communities, the social determinants of health and promoting mental health and wellness.

Along with announcements at Cape Breton University and Saint Mary's University earlier this week, the Tories have committed a total of about $100 million in three days.

"We will spend what it takes to fix the health-care system," Houston told reporters following a packed announcement at a building on the St. FX campus in Antigonish, N.S., Thursday.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The new institute for innovation in health will serve as a site where researchers and students can work together under one roof. It will also be open to health-care professionals who have ideas that could help the system more broadly, but must first be developed and trialed.

"I think often when you're a front-line health-care provider, you do have good ideas," Health Minister Michelle Thompson told reporters.

"You see the practicalities of things that would really help, but the research is quite daunting. If you're not a researcher, if you don't have that experience, how do you take those ideas and measure them and find out whether or not they're impactful?"

St. FX president Andy Hakin said the university has 75 researchers who focus on health. He expects the institute, which will lead to the creation of new programs, will also mean more research positions at the university.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The institute is something the school has pursued for years. Hakin told reporters that things kicked into high gear recently when the focus shifted from mainly academia to applied research that would have practical implications for communities and the health-care system.

"It was really just a tweaking of the situation that we put forward previously," he said. "So not much of a change at all from where we were, but an important one in terms of moving forward."

During the announcement, Hakin said research at the institute will not just be based at St. FX, and that researchers will be exploring mobile simulation.

"Imagine [telling] very busy health professionals, 'Stop what you're doing, come to us.'

"No, we'll go to you. We'll find a way to get the simulation training into your hands. We're working with Nova Scotia Health to make that happen."

Submitted by St. F.X. University
Submitted by St. F.X. University

The total cost of the new building will be $63.1 million. Hakin said the university has the rest of the money already committed and construction would begin as soon as design plans are finalized.

He expects the site to open sometime in 2026.

For Houston — whose party was elected based on a promise to fix health care — there is no shying away from that commitment.

The premier said that although short-term steps are being taken to improve the system, announcements such as the ones this week are about looking at longer-term initiatives to improve people's health and examine preventative treatment options.

"We can't go through a health-care crisis every 20 years, 25 years," he said.

"So we're looking to the long term and saying, 'How do we make sure that we have a sustainable health-care system that is there for all Nova Scotians when they need it today, tomorrow and well into the future."