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OHC town halls planned for Wallaceburg, Chatham, Sarnia

Posted: April 6, 2016

(April 6, 2016 )   AuhtorTyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

More than 100,000 hours per year of registered nursing have been lost at Bluewater Health in the last 15 months.

That’s according to Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) VP Vicki McKenna.

“Of course the nurses there are doing the best they can, but each and every year it’s cut after cut after cut and it’s got to stop,” she said. “It’s just got to stop.”

Bluewater Health has shed dozens of positions amid $7 million in provincial funding reductions since 2012, largely based on provincial funding formula changes that recently resulted in another $2.5-million cut.

The hospital group is carrying a $1.8-million deficit into its next fiscal year as a result, but expects to balance by year-end in March.

“The nurses that are there are very worried,” said McKenna.

“Their workload is getting heavier and heavier and also they’re just worried about the level of care they’re able to deliver.”

In 2015 there were 45 nursing positions shed, resulting in 70,000 lost hours, she said, and so far this year there have been 18 positions cut, resulting in another 31,000 lost hours.

McKenna’s comments come as she’s scheduled to speak at a town hall meeting April 12 in Sarnia, organized by the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition.

Joining her are the Ontario Health Coalition’s Natalie Mehra and ONA colleague Karen Bertrand.

“Although the Bluewater Health campuses both in Sarnia and Petrolia aren’t facing any immediate further cuts, we want to discuss what health-care now looks like in Sarnia and Lambton County, and what may be expected in the future,” said organizer Shirley Roebuck, with the Sarnia-Lambton coalition chapter.

The meeting, and similar ones happening across the province — including in Wallaceburg this Thursday and Chatham on Friday — are also the starting point for a voluntary referendum the provincial health-care watchdog group is planning for next month, she said.

“We’re going to be asking people if they support all of the hospital cuts that have been happening due to inadequate funding, or whether they want the government to stop cutting hospital services.”

Plans are to present the results to Premier Kathleen Wynne and others in the provincial legislature, she said.

Wallaceburg and Chatham hospitals are particularly vulnerable, Roebuck said, since the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance — that oversees hospitals in both communities — just registered a $1.8-million deficit and is projecting to be another $3.5-million in the red by next March.

Fears are the Health Alliance’s campus in Wallaceburg could be facing further cuts or closure, Roebuck said.

“If there’s nothing in Wallaceburg for people to go to, I would expect a certain percentage of those people to head north to Sarnia or to Petrolia,” she said.

McKenna said local people taking action — calling MPPs, going to the town halls, joining health coalition chapters — can make a difference.

“We’ve seen it happen over and over again in a number of communities in Ontario, where they have stood up and said, ‘Not in my backyard, not in my town, enough already, stop the cuts,’” she said. “There’s been change.

“This isn’t impossible.”