Meeting planned to map out hospital's future


Kincardine council is setting up a meeting with various levels of government, medical staff and hospital administrators to help map out the future of Kincardine's hospital more clearly.

Councillor Ron Hewitt came up with the idea to hold a meeting. Most councillors spoke in favour of the meeting after hearing a delegation asking for council's support to fight the proposed physiotherapy changes.

Sylvia Stepnow arranged for a delegation to address council on the concerns of residents and medical staff over the move to privatized physiotherapy. Stepnow said the community has spoken and believes it is time for council to stand up for its residents.
"Listen with your minds but also with your hearts," she said. "Let us know you'll do something for us."
Patt Lowry spoke as an affected resident. She said the move will affect those without health insurance, or those without a way to travel to Walkerton for appointments.

"How can we recruit new doctors if we have no physiotherapy," Lowry said. "Now is not the time to cut back on (services)."
Up until 1990, physiotherapy was paid for through OHIP and free to all inpatients and outpatients at the hospital. The next year, the hospital began paying for services out of its general operating budget. Physiotherapy has always been free for Kincardine residents.

Former Kincardine hospital physiotherapist Isabel Jones said the new plan - which sees PT Health take over the clinic space at the hospital - will mean the loss of free outpatient therapy in Kincardine. She said the move is the beginning of privatization of health care in the area and it leaves people with fewer options for receiving care.

The South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) board made the decision to cut the service in an attempt to cut costs and present a balanced budget to the Ontario government. Both Jones and Dr. Lisa Roth believe cutting physiotherapy will end up costing more in the long run.

"We're concerned the healthcare of our patients will suffer," said Roth. "We feel it's a (very bad) decision to cut this. (Due to extended hospital stays and more re­admittance) it is going to end up costing the hospital more ­ which will lead to more cuts."
Since the announcement of the change last month, a groundswell of opposition has surfaced. Residents have written letters to all levels of government and took part in a protest two weeks ago to try and change the decision.

"It's really heartwarming for the people working at the hospital to see the support the community is showing," Roth said. "Sometimes we see the effects of these cuts and don't think people support us, but this is nice to see."

SBGHC CEO Paul Davies has been under attack throughout the discussions for his decision to cut free physiotherapy. His job requires him to balance the budgets at four hospitals and present solid financing to the provincial government. Hospitals typically receive only small funding increases from the province despite a rise in the demand for service.

Councillor Ken Craig was quick to offer his support of the work Davies has done. While not necessarily agreeing with his decisions, Craig said Davies has a difficult job to do.

"He's required to present a balanced budget and he does a great job," Craig said. "We'd all crack under the pressure of providing the services that should be here."

Other councillors were not so complimentary.
"(Davies) wants his Durham and Walkerton hospitals as a unit and he doesn't care what happens to Kincardine," said councillor Marsha Leggett.

Both Craig and mayor Larry Kraemer suggested fighting this on a local level will not be enough. Kraemer said Kincardine needs to work with the board to pressure the province into freeing up more money for rural hospitals. Councillor Mike Leggett said council should find out more information on the hospitalÆs finances before making a decision.

"We can only get so far (pressuring) the board," Leggett said. "But, is everyone willing to see a $200 increase on their tax bill (to save the service)?"

Councillor Ron Hewitt is concerned with the way Davies is cutting services. He said Kincardine is the first hospital hit with changes while the others retain their services. He also said local independent hospitals have retained the necessary services.
"We should look at (what's been cut) and where they're cutting," said councillor Gord Campbell. "They better start cutting at a different hospital; it's totally wrong. I'll be standing up and supporting the people."

Prior to the Stepnow delegation, Hewitt proposed a motion calling for a meeting with those involved at the Kincardine hospital. He suggested inviting Huron­Kinloss council, the SBGHC board, doctors, medical staff and the local MPP.

Council couldn't decide on a path forward immediately. The municipality's new public notice policy requires the council wait one week. Council will hammer out the specific details of Hewitt's motion and a path forward on the physiotherapy cuts Aug. 13.