ANTIGONISH: Nine months into its first major fundraising campaign, the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation (SMRHF) has reached 61 per cent of its target but is showing no signs of slowing down.

Launched last September with the aim of creating an endowment fund of $20 million by 2026, “St. Martha’s and You…The Time is NOW” had approximately $12.2 million in commitments and pledges as of May 30, with individuals, corporate sponsors and municipal units across the Strait area joining forces to ensure that the Antigonish hospital could continue to modernize its equipment in the decade ahead.

With this in mind, campaign organizers are now preparing for the first major mail-out of the year, hoping to continue the momentum from the first round of fundraising.

“We’re just getting started, in many ways,” said Joe MacDonald, the foundation’s chair.

“We are staying the course in our aggressiveness on reaching this target. We need to reach that target of $20 million because it will allow every year for our hospital to have about $1 million to spend on equipment – year after year after year, there will be a minimum of $1 million that will go into enhanced services.”

While the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) have each committed to provide annual donations of $50,000 over the next 10 years, with the Town of Antigonish also reportedly close to making a decision in this regard, campaign chair Steve Smith pointed out that these municipal commitments only represent seven-to-eight per cent of the total amount raised to date.

“About 500 or 600 individuals have already made five-year donations, and our goal is to increase that,” Smith noted. “So we’re sending another mail-out to all 22,000 households in the [Strait area].”

Noting that data collected by doctors at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital indicates a 75 per cent visitation rate from residents of Guysborough, Inverness and Richmond counties, Smith stressed the need for contributions from across the Strait area, and pointed to the region’s rising senior population as a key factor in the current push for equipment funds.

With 13,190 residents of the region currently aged 65 or higher, and that number expected to increase to 22,505 by 2026, Smith and MacDonald are both suggesting that the hospital will not be able to handle this demographic shift without a guaranteed funding source for new hospital equipment.

“It is a tsunami of health care that is coming at us,” Smith warned.

“I have had professionals tell me that the number of visits to St. Martha’s within 10 years will very likely double.”

To that end, while Smith, MacDonald and their colleagues added that they recognize the struggle faced by smaller health care centres throughout the Strait area, they are continuing to push for donations to “St. Martha’s and You… The Time is NOW.”

“It’s not that we would lose our hospital, but we would lose a lot of what our hospital does if we don’t keep things modern,” Smith predicted.