By Mike Williscraft
Concerns about transferred patient loads on neighbouring hospitals, Hamilton city councillors have added their voices calling on Hamilton Health Sciences to find an alternative option to their closure of West Lincoln Memorial Hospital’s operating rooms for 27 months.
Oct. 22 HHS announced it plans to close the ORs, taking with it the prized obstetrics service, to bring that aspect of the aging facility up to current standards.
This direction – announced by HHS president and CEO Rob Mac-Isaac – was developed from an Oct. 5 consultant’s report.
That report, however, did not suggest any long-term closure of any aspect of service, rather, noting the work could be done through a series of weekend closures and a handful of short-term closures all scheduled to minimize impacts on the level of care, patients and staff.
While no timeline came with the announcement, January was initially believed to be a target but MacIsaac has repeatedly asserted no timeline has been set.
The announcement brought immediate and heated reaction from throughout WLMH’s catchment area bringing well over 500 out to a hastily called and overflowing public meeting, generated a community action group and a massive petition and letter writing campaign to get the attention of provincial government officials.
The petitions took in 18,000 signatures in just a week’s time.
As the lengthy series of concerns continue to echo – most recently with Dr. Tom Estall noting in the Nov. 15 edition of NewsNow that he believes none of the comments about concern for patient safety by HHS officials are justified – Hamilton official’s worries for more distant impacts have developed.
In a joint letter to MacIsaac issued on Monday, Councillors Maria Pearson and Brenda Johnson and Councillor-Elect Brad Clark sent their concerns right to the top.
“As we understand it, an active operating room is a prerequisite for any hospital in Ontario providing Emergency Room services. Given the distance between Grimsby and any other acute care hospital (Hamilton or Niagara), we are concerned that even a temporary closure of the OR could add significant patient loads to Hamilton EMS and Hospitals, which are already struggling with Code Zeros,” wrote the trio in the co-signed
letter sent Monday.
“We strongly encourage you and your Hamilton Health Sciences Executive Team consult with the medical team at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, Hamilton EMS, Niagara EMS, and local health practitioners to find viable solutions to maintain hospital services while the restructuring is underway. As Hamilton City Councillors, we believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to work together and find a collaborative approach that results in long over-due improvements to West Lincoln Memorial Hospital while maintaining current local hospital services including obstetrics, surgery and emergency care.”
After long-time medical director Dr. Gary Benson resigned in protest and after the volume was turned up on public protests, HHS officals agreed to develop a committee with their representatives and those from the WLMH medical community to review alternative options which could achieve the improved-standards goal while avoiding any long-term closure.
For Clark, any long-term closure of the ORs is simply not acceptable.
“Residents in Ward 9 have come to rely on WLMH’s emergency, surgical and obstetrics department as they provide excellent service in close proximity to their homes,” said Clark in an interview.
“Such a decision will increase the demand on Hamilton’s EMS, increase the potential for Code Zeros which could put lives at risk.”
For Pearson, her phone has been ringing constantly.
“Losing service for these residents and residents in the Grimsby area would be devastating. With the increase in emergencies, aging population and the number of code reds that Hamilton has been dealing with I can certainly understand why there is a comfort level for residents to attend WLMH. To many this has been the only hospital they have received medical attention at,” said Pearson in an interview.
“With the growing population of Grimsby and surrounding area it only makes sense to pursue a new, state of the art facility to serve Grimsby and the surrounding area for many years to come.”
As Johnson noted, the fight is personal, and it should be.
“My family, and I’m including my children, my now- adult children, my husband and I, my parents and his parents, have used the West Lincoln hospital services multiple – and underline multiple – times,” said Johnson.
“Being in Winona, it is a lot better for us to go to West Lincoln than it is to go to another hospital in the opposite direction. Not only is it closer, but just because of the high level of service that we receive. My concern is if they do temporarily take these services out is there an underlying plot to keep them out.”