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Health officials, politicians unite

Posted: October 29, 2015

(October 29, 2015)

By Luke Hendry, The Intelligencer

Luke Hendry/The Intelligencer Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff speaks during a special meeting of area mayors and health officials at Hastings County headquarters in Belleville Thursday. Mayors attacked Ontario’s new funding formula for hospitals. With him at the table were Mayors Jim Harrison of Quinte West, back left, Mark Walas of Brighton and Taso Christopher of Belleville.

Local health authorities and politicians agree on one thing: they need to meet more frequently.
At the invitation of Hastings County officials, area mayors and administrators of Quinte Health Care and the South East Local Integration Network (LHIN) met Thursday for a special meeting at county headquarters in Belleville.
It was largely an education session, with all sides stating their views and doing their share of listening.
Present were the mayors of Belleville, Quinte West, Prince Edward County, Bancroft and Brighton. Joining them at the county’s invitation was John Smylie, chairman of Our Trenton Memorial Hospital.
The mayors of Hastings Highlands, Carlow/Mayo and Tweed watched from the audience.
Politicians attacked Ontario’s funding formula for hospitals. They complained of municipalities facing rising costs from provincial downloading and uncertainty about what hospital cuts will mean for both the quality of care and municipal budgets.
“This funding formula is broken,” said Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff.
“Not knowing where we’re going is going to be a problem,” Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher added.
The mayors agreed on the need for a united front against the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
“We should be collectively working together for better service and speak as one voice. It gives you more credibility when you work with the province,” Quaiff said.
He said QHC “is not our enemy” and municipal leaders should work with the corporation and help to create “better funding formulas and better understanding from the province.
Quaiff said he “could care less if I have 10 beds” at the Picton hospital so long as residents receive proper care.
Bancroft Mayor Bernice Jenkins said North Hastings Hospital is “basically … an outpost hospital.” It was a reference to the hospital’s founding as Red Cross Outpost Hospital in 1927.
“Our residents are an hour-and-a-half, two hours from a large hospital,” Jenkins said.
She said residents would love “all the bells and whistles” of health care but “we must keep what we have.”
Quinte Health Care president and chief executive officer Mary Clare Egberts said she doubted even a group challenge of the formula “would get anywhere” with the ministry. She explained Ontario’s fiscal problems are provincial, not regional or local.
Egberts defended the province’s funding formula, saying the previous system was broken.
She acknowledged, however, southeastern Ontario suffers more under the new formula “because we just don’t have population growth.”
She said QHC must cut $11.5 million in the next fiscal year. She said the only program QHC proposes cutting is its pain clinic. She said senior staff want to create a regional program in partnership with other organizations.
“It is a service that doesn’t need to be in a hospital,” she said, and more specialized staff elsewhere can provide better care.
She also noted that of the 2,400 day surgeries being move from Trenton to Belleville, 70 per cent of patients of those surgeries in the past were from outside the Quinte West-Brighton area.
“That’s a very small change for our patients for what we’re able to retain.”
Egberts said QHC’s recent grade of 99.9 per cent from Accreditation Canada is proof it’s providing high-quality care.
The LHIN’s Kennedy said the provincial agency is concerned about per-capita health spending. The LHIN allocates $1.2 billion annually to its region of 500,000 people.
“We’ve had more than our fair share of the pie given our population.”
She and Egberts said residents must take greater responsibility for their own health.
“We’re not doing ourselves any favours with our own habits,” said Kennedy, noting the local rates of poor nutrition, lack of exercise and smoking all surpass the Ontario averages, as do cases of lung disease, mental health issues and some cancers.
Egberts asked municipalities to help QHC recruit doctors, to address transportation concerns and to educate the public about the need for changes in health care.
Politicians said they’ve committed millions of dollars toward health care. Hastings County chief administrative officer Jim Pine asked if they should redirect donations for hospital capital projects to transportation. Egberts replied the parties should discuss it further.
Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison said there’s a limit to how municipalities can help and the province must realize it.
“I’m being expected to put more dollars toward what they’re downloading onto me,” he said.
Our TMH’s Smylie, meanwhile, said he was encouraged by the way in which all sides discussed local health care. But he said Our TMH and the Ontario Health Coalition are still expecting more than 1,000 people at their Nov. 13 rally at the Trenton hospital to protest hospital cuts.
Hastings County Warden Rick Phillips said he remains upset at the area’s no-growth status. He said he understands Ontario’s position but receiving less health funding hurts doctor recruitment and economic development.
“All of our residents still need quality health care,” he said.
He, Egberts and Christopher also said Thursday’s discussion was productive and further talks would be wise. Christopher made a point of saying LHIN officials have never met with his council.
luke.hendry@sunmedia.ca

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