By Mike Williscraft
What started as an announcement of an ultimate direction with no timeline for implementation regarding West Lincoln Memorial Hospital’s operating rooms, is now being called a “planning process”.
Hamilton Health Sciences officials met with WLMH staff over a series of meetings on Monday, Oct. 21 and outlined the findings from a five-page executive summary of a study commissioned to give one solution to issues with the aging facility’s ORs.
The focal point of the study is the recommendation to close the ORs fully for an estimated 27-month period and spend $8.6 million to bring the rooms up to current standards.
While area residents and local officials were outraged at the notion, all WLMH medical officials condemned the action, including Dr. Gary Benson, a long-time fixture who served as its medical director until his resignation over the issue. Key to their concerns was the lack of input and communication in general prior to the closure being communicated.
“Could we have done better? I guess we could have. Did people leave that meeting assuming that there was something imminent happening? Yes, they did. Was that the intent of our message? No,” said Aaron Levo, HHS’s vice-president communication and public affairs.
While backing into the process has not curried any favour, Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff said Tuesday that HHS could redeem itself if they hold true to what they are now saying.
“If they are genuine and stand by their word about working toward solving the problems with the ORs without transferring services it would be a start,” said Oosterhoff.
“If they are predetermining the results and how the conversation goes…that is a different story.”
When asked why a report would be rolled out with only one possible direction cited, HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac said that was because it was all they asked of their consultant.
“We didn’t ask the consultant to come back with a range of options. We asked the architect to come back with the architect’s recommendations, so that’s what we got. We got a recommendation. I am sure if we’d asked for five different options about how we might proceed that would have been what the architect gave us. We asked him to give us his recommended way forward,” said MacIsaac.
“We asked a very straight forward and appropriate question of the architect. What needs to occur and how long will it take to get this facility up to contemporary standards. I think it is quite an appropriate question to ask when you’re presented with a facility that is 30 years past where, you know…We got our answer to that question.”
For Oosterhoff and the current government, that answer is not in the best interests of the community.
“The Minister of Health (Christine Elliott) has told HHS to find a solution that keeps all services at West Lincoln Memorial,” said Oosterhoff, adding that Donna Cripps, CEO of the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network also has “grave concerns” about shifting any services away from WLMH.
Neither MacIsaac or Levo would commit to that, but they both did say they are hopeful the process now underway will help all understand what needs to be done and why.
“We are engaging with the medical leadership at West Lincoln to deal with the issues that have been raised. We had a very productive, cordial meeting with them last week and committed to working with them to look at possible ways
to mitigate their concerns. So we’ll be engaging in that discussion in the coming weeks. I think the hospital continues to have strong commitment to upgrade the site so we can meet the quality and standards in safe patient care,” said MacIsaac.
“The architect’s report has caused a lot of consternation. For sure we are now moving through a process to make sure people understand the report, the issues that are raised in the report, and how it is that we can best move forward. Again, always bearing in mind our commitment delivering high quality, safe care.
As has been the case from the outset, no specific timeline has been set but all involved realize a solution sooner than later is best for all.
“We are working on the design of the next couple of months in terms of how we’ll arrive at a final conclusion. That proves we will definitely make sure that medical leadership at West Lincoln has a line of sight into the decision making process and an opportunity for input,” said MacIsaac.
“We did agree, everyone agreed that we need to set a brisk pace to get to a final decision around this issue so I think we’re talking it’s probably going to be more than weeks, certainly less than a year. Ideally, I’d like to have a decision in place well before the spring.”
A key part of the need for some level of speed is the uncertainty staff face. A long delay would magnify issues and some may choose to look elsewhere in hopes of finding a more stable environment.
“I think that is part of the calculus for why we all agreed last week that we need to move briskly. There are a number of factors at play here. This is a situation 30 years in the making,” said MacIsaac.
“We cannot get to an ideal place, in the short run, based on where we are to day, so finding our way forward, in many respects, is about finding the least bad solution. We’re committed to doing that.”