In the coming years, fewer patients in northwestern Ontario will be forced to travel to southern Ontario to get surgery or receive treatment for cardiovascular issues, according to the province.

Ontario's Minister of Health, Eric Hoskins and Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro were at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre on Wednesday to announce the establishment of a "comprehensive cardiovascular surgery facility."

"It's truly fabulous," Mauro said. "Today I feel like it's the conclusion of a 14-year process that has seen significant, successful milestones along the way."

Construction and renovation to house the new unit at the hospital is expected to take until 2020, when the new cardiovascular program is set to be fully operational, according to the province. The new space will cover about 20,000 square feet.

Mauro added that there will be 14 inpatient beds, a new vascular laboratory and a new surgical suite. It is expected to be able to treat approximately 1,000 patients each year.

Provincial officials did not commit to how much the expansion will cost nor how much the province will pay. The hospital has said establishing a program to do open-heart and vascular surgery would cost between $20 and $30 million.

In a written release, the government stated the goal of the announced expansion is to reduce the number of trips patients from the northwest must make to places like Toronto, Ottawa, London and Hamilton for various cardiovascular procedures.

The new program will run in partnership with the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, which is part of the University Health Network in Toronto, Hoskins said.

"So that as this program evolves, the clinical staff here and the hospital leadership can have confidence that the program is the highest quality," he said.

"Patients and families can have confidence that they're going to get the highest quality care and the outcomes they're looking for."

Heart and cardiovascular services have expanded over the past several years at the Thunder Bay hospital, starting with the introduction of angioplasty services in 2009.