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London hospital boss grilled at forum over ending LHSC-St. Joe’s pact

Posted: June 12, 2023

(June 12 2023)

By: Norman De Bono, The London Free Press

London Health Sciences Centre leaders are tearing apart a cohesive health-care system that works, adding bureaucracy and cost as service integration is unraveled, a local advocate warned at a weekend public forum held by the hospital.

LHSC is scrapping a long-standing collaboration agreement with the city’s other hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Care, as first reported by The Free Press. Officials with the large hospital held a Saturday morning community forum at Goodwill on Horton Street and the first question was: Why scrap a partnership that works?

“We will be struggling, competing against one another for staff in an environment where there’s a staffing crisis,” Peter Bergmanis, chair of the London Health Coalition, an advocacy group, said after the meeting. “How will we make this run smoothly? It doesn’t add up to quality patient care. It will be fragmented.”

LHSC and St. Joe’s in a 2016 agreement set broad ground rules for joint ventures and shared services, though co-operation preceded that formal partnership. That deal has been undone, meaning collaboration will end on everything from electronic patient records to shared lab services and joint buying of medical supplies, doctor credentials and technology services.

Bergmanis questioned LHSC chief executive Jackie Schleifer Taylor on the issue and the hospital boss answered that LHSC still will partner and share resources with St. Joe’s, but health care has changed.

The partnership agreement had a “five-year cycle,” she said, and “a lot has changed at both our hospitals. We have programs that only happen at St. Joseph’s and others that only happen at LHSC. We both have regional mandates that are different. . . . LHSC looked at them carefully and considered what was next.”

But Bergmanis said Schleifer Taylor didn’t answer his key questions: Why do this? And how will patient care be affected?

“I’m not happy with it,” he said of her response. “She glossed over the contradictions, saying we’re still working together, but separating. She didn’t justify it. It’s not efficient. It’s fragmented.”

The Free Press shone a spotlight on the issue after Tony Dagnone, a former longtime LHSC chief executive, sent a scathing letter to the hospital’s board of directors slamming the “backroom antics” of terminating the pact with St. Joe’s.

“London hospitals are precious community resources. Governance should be promoting effective inter-hospital collaboration at every opportunity to garner value for money,” he wrote. “My view is that the board should prohibit management from creating self-defined organizational castles at expense of public funds.”

Over the years, the two hospitals have evolved to complement, rather than compete with, each other, he added.

Each hospital will have its own medical research division, and Schleifer Taylor said the hospitals no longer will share vice-presidents, which the agreement had covered in areas such as medical and academic affairs, internal auditing and information management.

Before the community forum, Schleifer Taylor discussed how the Ontario government has moved to scrap larger regional health-care administrations in favour of smaller, collaborative teams of hospitals and other partners, including in long-term and primary care.

The health system changes, together with gaps exposed by the pandemic, mean LHSC needs to work with a cross-section of other health-care providers, not just other hospitals, Schleifer Taylor said.

There’s a new focus now on partnering with similar acute-care hospitals and building closer ties with home care, long-term care and social service agencies, she added.

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