Ongwanada has been a member of the community for over 60 years fulfilling a variety of needs. Founded in 1948 as a tuberculosis sanatorium, it evolved into a chronic care hospital, a facility for children and adults with developmental disabilities and most recently, as a non-profit organization providing community-based support to approximately 600 individuals and their families in Kingston and eastern Ontario.
How did this transformation come about? How did Ongwanada shed its original role and the buildings associated with it, and yet still retain a recognizable identity? The answer lies in the current of caring that flows through Ongwanada's story like a river, uniting all the different landmarks. Ongwanada has always been a place where people - patients, residents, board members, volunteers, and staff - stayed a long time. "We're like a family," is a sentiment authentically expressed time and again.
Ongwanada was founded on August 8, 1948 by Dr. Bruce Holmes Hopkins, a persevering and dedicated physician who campaigned for over twenty years to establish a Kingston sanatorium. The building had been constructed in 1942 as a hostel for women working at Alcan during World War Two, and in 1946 was converted into a veterans hospital. Dr. Hopkins went to great lengths to transform the makeshift structure into "Ongwanada," the Ojibwa word for "our home."
The 1950s were peak years for Ongwanada Sanatorium, with an array of new programs, a steady demand for beds, and a facility so picturesque that newlyweds posed for pictures on the grounds. Towards the end of the decade, however, as improved drug treatments made months and years of bed rest unnecessary, Ongwanada experienced a crisis of empty beds. In the face of government plans to shut Ongwanada down, Dr. Hopkins and members of the board fought tenaciously for its future.
A new direction emerged in 1967 with the gradual transfer of 100 children with severe developmental disabilities from large and overcrowded facilities. In April 1968 Ongwanada further extended its services to chronic care patients with the opening of a thirty-bed unit. The tuberculosis work continued through a combined TB and respiratory disease unit. In keeping with its broader mandate the sanatorium was renamed Ongwanada Hospital in 1971, the same year Dr. Hopkins died.
In the 1970s, in response to parental demands, the children's unit experienced a shift from custodial nursing care to developmental programming. This thrust gained momentum in 1974 with the transfer of developmental services in Ontario from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. People with developmental disabilities were no longer to be considered patients requiring medical care, but as individuals capable of living in the community with support.
In April 1977, Ongwanada merged with the L.S. Penrose Centre, a King Street facility housing 120 adults with developmental disabilities. The two buildings were renamed the Hopkins and Penrose divisions of Ongwanada, under a new executive director, Robert Seaby. With the merger came a period of intense public controversy over Ongwanada's future role. The debate resulted in a positive plan for "redevelopment," which involved the creation of a range of community services and the eventual closing of both facilities.
In the 1980s all the children living at the Hopkins site were transferred to communities near their families or relocated to seventeen new community residences operated by Ongwanada in the Kingston area. The chronic care and respiratory disease units were transferred in November 1990 to Providence Manor under the administration of St. Mary's of the Lake Hospital. Professional and administrative staff moved from Hopkins to the newly constructed Ongwanada Resource Centre on Portsmouth Avenue, and the Hopkins building was demolished.
During the late 1990's redevelopment focused on the adults living at Penrose, a heritage building constructed in the 1860's as a Crown asylum for the mentally ill. The majority of adults chose, in consultation with their families and staff, to move into eleven new community residences located along the Napanee-Gananoque corridor. The Home Share program, in which individuals live with a family other than their own with support from Ongwanada staff, was also greatly expanded. Penrose closed in April 1997, and the site is now the responsibility of the Ontario Realty Corporation.
The last few years has brought more change to Ongwanada. We have been working closely with the Ministry of Community and Social Services to transform developmental services. As a co-lead agency with the Community Networks of Specialized Care, Ongwanada is working to ensure that all people with developmental disabilities, mental health issues and challenging behaviour can access the help they need in their communities no matter where they live.
Technology has become a new and exciting frontier for our organization. With Ongwanada's leadership, the Community Network has launched videoconferencing sites across Ontario which can be used to deliver training and expertise province wide. We are no longer confined by geography, we can help provide the best care and training, be it in an urban or rural setting.
As you can see the past 60 years has brought a number of significant changes for Ongwanada but the journey has just begun. Ongwanada will continue to evolve in response to the changing needs and goals of individuals and their families.