In a scathing indictment of hospital mergers that have occurred with shocking regularity across Ontario the past few decades, the Ontario Health Coalition was in Lindsay last night to say “put up a fight” — because the threat to Ross Memorial is real.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the OHC — who was interviewed by the Lindsay Advocate in our initial investigation into the proposed merger — cautioned the crowd about the potential effects to local services if the merger goes ahead unchecked by local residents.
“Many hospitals that have gone through amalgamation really aren’t hospitals anymore — they’re just long-term care beds’” said Mehra. She also outlined on the continuing threats to smaller and rural hospitals caused by cutbacks in healthcare from successive provincial governments.
Sara Labelle of the Durham Health Coalition (DHC) had some motivational words for local citizens concerned about the proposed hospital merger: “I’m here to tell you that you can win. It’s worthwhile for this community to put up a fight.”
Mehra and Labelle were two of four speakers in Lindsay for an information session organized by the Peterborough and Ontario Health Coalitions (PHC/OHC) about the proposed merger between Ross Memorial Hospital (RMH) and the Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC).
More than 80 concerned residents gathered to hear cautionary tales and stories of inspiration about hospital mergers that have happened elsewhere in the province and the local efforts to stop or blunt them.
Charlene Avon — a retired nurse and Chair of the PHC and Board Member of the OHC — moderated the event that informed attendees about previous mergers in the province and the efforts of local citizens to fight those changes. The OHC is a non-partisan provincial advocacy group whose mission is to “protect and improve our public health care system.”
Labelle informed the gathering about the succession of mergers in the Durham area, and the efforts of the DHC to stop or at least modify their effects on the local community.
Shirley Roebuck, a retired nurse from the Wallaceburg/Walpole Island First Nation Health Coalition described efforts to maintain community hospital functions at the Wallaceburg Hospital (now merged with Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.) The Wallaceburg hospital (serving a town of 10,000 plus the local area and a nearby First Nation) now only has five beds in its hospital, although, through much community activism, the emergency room and other services were saved.
Mehra shared the loss of services that have occurred in community hospitals in the mergers that have happened in the Niagara region.
Maggie Jewell, a local resident and nurse at the RMH spoke to the often crowded conditions at the Ross, and echoed the sentiment of many in the room that more services are needed in the City of Kawartha Lakes’ only hospital, not less.
Panel participants stressed that it is not always about ‘winning’ and stopping a merger. “You can get a significant commitment to keep services in your community,” by organized opposition to the merger, according to Labelle.
The meeting ended with questions and answers — and discussion amongst attendees of next steps, including the formation of a Kawartha Lakes Health Coalition to save localized services. Several participants commented on the difficulties they have been having on communicating with local MPP Laurie Scott on this — or any other issue — affecting local residents.
The open and frank talk about expected changes to local services was in stark contrast to the staid information sessions that were organized by the RMH and the PRHC. At those meetings, all discussions of how a merger would affect services was considered “outside the scope” of the consultation.
In fact, the last planned hospital-ran public consultation (which was to be held in Lindsay on Aug. 29) was postponed so that the hospitals could consider “new information.” When asked about the nature of this new information, Kim Coulter, Coordinator of Employee & Community Relations at the RMH told The Lindsay Advocate that “the matters under review are subject to a confidentiality agreement, and therefore cannot be released.”
It was clear from last night’s meeting led by the OHC that when similar mergers were allowed to proceed unchecked elsewhere in the province, local services were lost.
“After a merger, a local hospital [like the RMH] is no longer considered a hospital [by the merged entity], it is just a department,” warned Avon. She added that there are allies everywhere in the fight for the hospital — including at the Ross.
“You have excellent staff at Ross…who are going to be allies.”
And seemingly small cuts, justified with terms like efficiency, can have a drastic effect on local services: “If you lose lab services, if you lose diagnostics, you stand to lose your hospital,” warned Mehra.
The OHC encourages all local residents to get involved to save the services both at the RMH, the PRHC and the healthcare system in general by attending a rally at Queen’s Park to advocate for rebuilding and improving healthcare in the province. Local coach busses have been arranged.
For information on the rally or to help form a Kawartha Lakes Health Coalition, contact Avon at 705-761-4408. The rally at Queen’s Park is being held on October 23 at Noon.
For Kawartha Lakes residents who could not make the Lindsay meeting there is another meeting tonight, Sept. 13, in Peterborough from 7-9 p.m. at the Peterborough Lions Centre at 347 Burnham St.
–with files from Roderick Benns.