WEB ONLY: Recent cutbacks at hospitals focus need to look to future

Recent cutbacks at hospitals in Palmerston and Mount Forest proved to be a pressing issue at a recent public consultation of the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

Jerome Quenneville, president and CEO of the Wellington Health Care Alliance was in the fire of questions as people wanted to know about the fate of both hospitals.

Recently announced cuts reduced the number of beds in both facilities and at least one RPN nurse laid off.

Quenneville was originally at the meeting to discuss “hospital situation” and what services are currently provided as it looks to the future.

He said that much like the LHIN, the intent is to provide the best service to the community.

He said North Wellington Health Care encompasses the Palmerston and Mount Forest hospital sites – an incorportation which happened in 2001.

The combined catchment area for the two hospitals is about 30,000 Quenneville said.

He said consultants were brought in, who spent time with local providers and staff to not only understand the current situation, but also the current aspirations.

He said in the short term, one of the goals is coordinating services among the Mount Forest and Palmerston sites to work more closely together.

In the past, certain methods or procedures may have differed from site to site, even though it was essentially the same type of service, he said.

“We’re trying to get that more consistent.”

It is easier if a patient has to be transferred from one site to another, he said.

He added that it is easier for someone dealing with more than one site to deal with issues.

The consultants identified emergency, ambulatory care and other departments which need physical improvements.

“The areas where we are providing those service are so limited.”

“The physical areas where we provide those services is just limited and really don’t meet today’s standards in some significant ways.”

He said a longer term approach was also reviewed.

Quenneville said that over the next five to ten years residents may need to think about only one of the two sites in North Wellington providing surgical services based on anesthesia.

He said that might provide the potential of a larger program at one site.

He noted the operating rooms function about a day and a half per week at each site.

“That would fit on one site, if we had to.”

He noted there are other procedures which do not need anesthesia. That might work on the other site, he said.

He suggested there might also be a look at whether or not obstetrics and the delivering of babies would continue at both sites.

There might be other services which might be better served on one site as well, he said.

He stressed those were Toronto-type thoughts from the consultants.

At the same time, Quenneville said, there’s been lots of discussion with physicians, staff and now from the community.

Dr. Chris Rowley, chair of the Rural Health Care Working Group said that the recent cuts have caused questions and concern.

He said his initial reaction on on the cutting of beds from 19 to 15 was “don’t do that. Don’t let anything go. We have to hold onto it. But if you think of it more rationally, with some juggling of how we do things, the impact is going to be small to non-existent.”

“While we have to change what we do and how we do it, but we can provide the same service.”

Rowley said his knee jerk reaction is what many people feel and there is need to look at options “… as long as we feel we are getting the care we need in our community.”

He said the community needs to look at operating rooms that is only used half the time.

He said that while the Toronto consultants are saying the glass is half empty and if it’s only being half used to take it out.

However Rowley said one could consider the situation as the glass being half full, with the potential of taking on the overload experienced at Guelph and Kitchener hospitals.

“We have our unique problems and situations, but it is not necessarily a bad thing.”

He said creative thinking is important not only in to keep the hospital, but to keep community health care in general.

One of the questions from the floor noted the combined budget of $19 million for the two hospitals.

He wanted to know if there was a dollar figure of savings for the recent cuts.

Quenneville estimated the savings would be about $600,000.

Rowley noted there were a number of questions being asked by the community.

Rowley said “rather than get the information fourth hand on main street, we’ll ask the man himself.”

Quenneville said that in looking in the bed changes from 19 to 15, it did change the staffing hours required.

He said the nursing hours that were adjusted for the most part were RPNs. He noted there were some early retirements, and there was one layoff in that transition.

However, he added that there are still RN positions open in Palmerston.

As to administration, Quenneville said the board was aggressive and thorough in looking in that area.

He said comparisons were made in a number of services provided.

“We compare reasonably well.”

However, he pointed out that is because through the Wellington Health Care Alliance, resources are stretched through three hospitals – Mount Forest, Palmerston and Fergus.