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County approves $9.4 million in funding for three area hospitals

by Meagan Leonard

Wellington County - County council has approved a funding request of $9.4 million to be divided between three area hospitals.

After lengthy deliberation at the June 26 meeting, the motion was passed by a 10-4 vote.

The funding includes $5 million for construction of the new Groves Hospital in Aboyne, and $4.4 million to be split between Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest and Palmerston and District Hospital for upgrades to emergency rooms and renovations to house pharmaceutical dispensing units.

The majority of opposition came from Erin Mayor Lou Maieron, who has maintained throughout the funding deliberations that citizens in southern Wellington would see no benefit from the projects and their tax dollars would be better-spent improving infrastructure in Erin.

Councillor Ken Chapman also expressed concern that hastily committing to such a sizable donation would become a financial burden to the incoming council this fall, following the municipal election.

Maieron reiterated that sentiment, stating more information is needed and the policy concerning hospital funding should be reviewed before moving forward.

“Without a policy and without a way to fund it, it’s premature,” Maieron said.

“It doesn’t seem like the hospitals are without funds to get started. Without information it’s only fair not to encumber the next council.”

A motion to defer the decision was defeated.

Wellington North Mayor Ray Tout rejected the idea that hospitals only service those who live in the immediate vicinity.

“There’s nobody in this room that hasn’t been touched by poor health ... and hasn’t ended up in London or Hamilton,” he said. “They need to be for transients as well as locals.”

Mapleton Mayor Bruce Whale said he was concerned that small town hospitals wouldn’t survive long-term, and therefore money spent servicing them would be counter-productive.

“Some pieces are missing from this puzzle,” Whale said. “What is the role going to be for small town hospitals in the health care system? Are we putting money into something that isn’t going to survive long term? Are we going to be able to attract doctors?”

In an interview with the Wellington Advertiser, Whale said he is also concerned about shifting responsibilities between levels of government.

“I’m still really concerned that at a municipal level we’re starting to take over some responsibilities that are really supposed to be provincial and I think we have enough infrastructure and services we provide - that we have to provide - that I think that this is one that if at all possible we should stay out of health care,” Whale said.

“They make arguments from the economic development side and I could buy into that to some extent, if someone could demonstrate to me what the hospital expectations are for businesses getting employees to move into our county.”

Ward 2 county councillor John Green of Mapleton felt the move was a continuation of established county practice.

Green said the requirement for 10 per cent in local funding is actually a reduction from a provincial position which, back in 2007 when Green was warden, used to require a 50% local contribution.

“For some reason, maybe government rethinking, maybe pressure from the AMO board which Chris White and I are on, that funding increased to 90% and that left 10% local and a number of years ago, before anybody that’s on county council now, the council had an unwritten policy that they would pay the local share of the county hospitals. And that’s exactly what it was - county hospitals,” Green told the Advertiser.

At the June 26 meeting Tout said keeping hospitals up to date is what attracts new doctors, and fosters economic development in smaller communities.

“No county can survive without the professionals of our local hospitals,” said Tout.

Some members of council also expressed hesitation to provide funding for the new Groves hospital, since it had already received a donation of $5 million in 2003. They felt the three donations should be considered on an individual basis.

Councillor Don McKay said Groves serves a larger population, making it easier to raise funds than for smaller facilities.

Councillor Lynda White said the money Groves received in 2003 had been used for servicing and has nothing to do with the project at hand.

She said she was shocked by the suggestion to consider the projects independently.

“Groves is building a brand new hospital. This is something that will only happen in our lifetime once,” she said.

“The government will not look at that previous $5 million when they look at what the municipality is putting in ... We are one county. We stand together.”

Councillor Jean Innes added the majority of previous funding for Groves came from a donation by OLG Slots - and not from the county purse at all.

“We’re looking at community,” Innes said. “Groves is going to be a major hospital. It’s going to have schools and ancillary activities going on that will benefit the whole community. It’s going to be a very special hospital.”

Before bringing the motion to a final vote, councillor Shawn Watters stressed the importance of the various municipalities maintaining a united front.

“(Separating) is not in the spirit of the horseshoe,” he said. “We can discuss and question things, but generally we tend to be supportive of one another. This dialogue is not helpful in that way.”

McKay repeated this sentiment, saying the point of council is to decide what’s best for the county as a whole.

“To me, home is Wellington County. It’s not Puslinch or Erin. It’s the county of Wellington,” McKay said.

“Charity does begin at home, but we need to look at our hospitals in the county as family and need to make sure all of our residents are looked after.”

On the final motion, 10 councillors were in favour, while Whale, McKay, Maieron and Chapman were opposed.

Warden Chris White told the Advertiser there was no funding timetable attached to the motion.

He explained the hospital projects will be funded on an as-needed basis over the next several years. He dismissed concerns the funding will result in large, multi-year tax increases for county residents.

“At the end of the day ... worst case scenario, if we borrow the entire amount right now, with a 20-year debenture,  it will result in a one-time 0.9% levy increase,” White said. He added the increase could be mitigated by possible savings the county may see through a new OPP funding model.

“We could save a couple of million dollars per year (with that),” White said.

-With files from Patrick Raftis and Chris Daponte

July 4, 2014


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