It’s clear that northern Wellington residents are concerned with health care, the question is “what happens next?”
It was a packed hall at the Harriston-Minto community centre on Jan. 28 as over 300 people came out to hear what was happening to rural health care in northern Wellington.
The meeting was intended as a public consultation meeting for the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).
Dr. Chris Rowley, chair of the LHIN’s Rural Health Care Working Group explained that he is also a physicians in Mount Forest and chief of staff at North Wellington Health Care [the Mount Forest and Palmerston Hospitals].
Rowley was amazed by the turnout at the night.
The first thing Rowley wanted to address was the reason why the group was assembled that night.
In addition to presentations, there would be a chance for questions and discussions.
At the meeting were Sandra Hamner, CEO, Waterloo Wellington LHIN; Shirley Borges, Administrator Minto-Mapleton, Family Health Team; Suzanne Trivers, Executive Director, Mount Forest Family Health Team; Jerome Quenneville, President and CEO, Wellington Health Care Alliance; and Kim Hodgson, Rural Health consultant and facilitator.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumours on the street.”
He noted he was at his badminton club on Monday night and said he was asked if he was coming to the meeting to save the community from closing the local hospital.
“That’s not this meeting. The rumour mill, as usual, has been fast and furious and more than somewhat inaccurate.”
“Closing hospitals has been no part of any discussion at any point,” he said.
He explained the meeting was a look at health care for the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN coverage area, specifically that in northern Wellington County.
Rowley stressed the issue is not just about the areas around each hospital, “it’s about the broader rural context of this area.”
He said that within the Clinical Optimization Steering Committee, the LHIN is trying to looking at the funding and the services throughout this area.
The idea, Rowley said, is to figure out where that money goes, what programs, where and how they are delivered.
“We all know here that rural issues are very different. Everything functions together in a much more holistic way.”
He used the example of physicians and nurse practitioners, family health teams and hospitals, to nursing home.
“You make changes in one area, and there is a domino effect that changes everything else.”
Although Rowley agreed that to some degree it affects larger communities, “it is more obvious and more real out here.”
Rowley said “we have good resources, but sometimes underused resources.”
At the same time, there are hospitals which have operating rooms which do not run all day, every day.
“So we have some room to change what we do.”
He said many things will influence what go into the recommendations. Finance will be one of those factors, he said.
“Everyone is aware of that, with the economy the way it is. I think we’re all quite awarethere is not going to be any huge influx of cash for anyone these days. Financial concerns are a reality we have to work within.”
Working with consultants and dealing with demographics the group will look at “what is needed to serve our population well.”
Plus, Rowley said, the group is looking for community input … “which is why you are here.”
“Health care isn’t just about dollars and demographics and databases … it’s about people. It’s about putting a sick kid in a car at 2am and driving them to the local hospital. Is that 10 minutes, is it an hour? It’s a big difference.”
Rowley pointed out that this is just one of several community consultations.
He clarified that there are different kinds of community consultations. He noted community consultations in Southgate about hydro lines going through.
However, Rowley suspected that if he asked Ontario Hydro to move its line because he didn’t like it, they’re probably not going to do that.
“Here, we have no forgone conclusions. There is no outcome we are trying to bring to you. Everyone will be listened to tonight. Obviously, we can’t promise anything and everything will be done, but we need to get this input to get a good recommendation as to how rural health care can continue to strive, survive and give us the health care we need.”
“I think there’s a lot of fear of change and we are all very much committed to our local hospitals. I can tell by the turnout here.”
Rowley said he too is concerned. “I have a job there and I have a concern for the hospital and for the broader community.”
“Change does not have to be feared. We’re not looking at making things worse, or smaller. We’re looking at how we can give this community the care it needs, with the health care situation changing.”
“There are many possible futures. I’ve heard them all in the past few weeks,” he said.
He said questions have been asked whether the northern hospitals will be downsized, make them bigger … maybe. We have a lot of maybes, but no answers yet.
He said the only certainty is the question of whether the two hospitals would be the same in five years time. The answer, Rowley said, is probably not.
“We need to make certain it is a change we can live with, and give us the care we need.
He said the idea is to focus as much as possible on looking forward.
He stressed the intent was not about looking back, or at changes which have already been made which may not be popular.