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Toronto Five Toronto hospitals to benefit from $50-million donation

Gary Slaight announces a $50-million donation to five Toronto hospitals.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Five Toronto hospitals will split $50-million in new donations from the Slaight Family Foundation, which will support projects that include new emergency services, MRI technology, mental-health treatment and maternity care.

Gifts of $10-million over 10 years will go to each of Toronto General and Western Hospital, St. Michael's Hospital, the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and Mount Sinai Hospital.

Gary Slaight said his family, known for building the powerhouse multimedia firm Standard Broadcasting, chose to back the city's hospital sector "because it needs it," and hopes other donors across Canada will follow their lead. They worked closely with the hospitals for most of the past year to choose initiatives in need of funds to cover construction, equipment and outreach, aiming to help patients of all ages.

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"I believe it's important that Canadian families who are fortunate enough to have built some kind of wealth in this country are giving back to the country in one way, shape or another," he said.

The gifts, announced Tuesday, mark the Slaights' second $50-million donation this year after family patriarch Allan Slaight and his wife, Emmanuelle Gattuso, gave the same sum to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in January.

At St. Michael's, the money will help modernize and double the size of the emergency department, which has been taxed by rising numbers of emergency visits – it was built to handle 45,000 each year, but had 71,500 last year, and the number continues to rise.

"I would say that's a top need," said Bob Howard, St. Michael's president and CEO. "This is the back-breaker donation that's going to allow us to do [the expansion]."

The plan at CAMH is to co-ordinate new services to identify at-risk youth for early intervention and treatment. It will target those ages 18 to 24, when most serious mental illnesses and addictions have their onset, and expand access to new treatments like magnetic brain stimulation.

Sunnybrook's leaders have chosen to drive ahead with new techniques to attack serious threats to health such as tumours without ever breaking a patient's skin. Most of their gift will go to purchasing Toronto's first PET-MRI scanner for ultra-high-resolution imaging. When combined with ultrasound, it will advance efforts to get drugs and, one day, stem cells through the bloodstream and past the brain's barrier for keeping noxious chemicals out.

"This is world-first research. This investment is going to save lives and it's going to change lives," said Barry McLellan, Sunnybrook's president and CEO.

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Similarly, Toronto General and Western Hospital will buy Canada's first Siemens 7 Tesla whole-body MRI scanner, which can produce extremely detailed images of the brain and spinal cord. Those images could reveal "the very, very earliest signs of degeneration in the brain" from Alzheimer's disease, strokes, concussions and other degenerative maladies, allowing for earlier treatment, said University Health Network president Bob Bell.

And Mount Sinai will extend its maternity-care education for family physicians, build a labour and delivery unit, and set up prenatal and perinatal outreach to marginalized women in Canada and abroad.

The Slaights, who sold most of their broadcasting properties to Astral Media in 2007, now plan to turn their philanthropic focus elsewhere. "I think, probably, we're done with the hospitals for now," Gary Slaight said.

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