By Don Crosby for The Markdale Standard
Proposed changes to the design for a new hospital in Markdale that would make it a rural health centre appear to have found favour with the provincial ministry of health and other government agencies.
A rural health centre would serve both the acute care and primary care health needs of the community and could be a model for the province in forming new rural health policy, said Maureen Solecki, President and CEO of Grey Bruce Health Services during a public information meeting held in Flesherton last week. Planning discussions are getting under way with the South West Local Health Integration Network.
“I would say they are very supportive of a rural health care centre in Markdale and have been working very closely with us on that . . . and ultimately the LHIN needs to approve any large capital project of this nature through the ministry of health. So they have been very supportive and been willing work with us in the planning process,” Solecki said.
Solecki told about 150 people at a public health forum in Flesherton on Tuesday evening (Oct. 27) that the hospital would continue to include all the acute care services and 24 hour emergency services, labs, day surgery, in patient and out patient services as wells as x-ray, laboratory and physiotherapy currently available.
The only trade off would be fewer in-patient hospital beds. But the advantages would include having a new medical clinic with up to nine doctors and the Community Health Centre with its doctors and more than a dozen ancillary health care workers all in one place next door to Grey Gables- the county retirement home.
A community health centre provides care for specific groups such as single mothers, in some cases first nations residents, and people with drug and mental health problems that are not covered by the other health care services and are without a doctor.
The community health care centre planned for south east Grey already has a guaranteed 2010-2011 operating budget of its own of $ 2.1 million to pay for up to 13,000 square feet of office space and 19 full time staff.
The idea of having a centralized rural health care centre isn’t new. It’s been promoted by local residents for several years now. But is just starting to find favour with the ministry of health officials. “It’s actually not as much a change as getting the government to see it the way we’ve always seen it,” said Dr. Hamilton Hall chair of the hospital planning board.
“Now they are coming to us and saying that’s a great idea. Why don’t we put it all in one place. . . The trick is to get them to think it’s their idea of how clever they are . . . and then it moves forward,” Hall said.
Hall is encouraged by the change in attitude on the part of the government with interest being shown from government agencies such as the capital branch and infrastructure Ontario that wouldn’t talk to local organizers for years.
“Now they are saying maybe we could put something together and fund a new rural health care project. We’re fine with this,” Hall said. Hall explained that Community Health Centres were designed for rural areas without hospitals or areas in large urban centers away from a hospital. Originally the idea was to have a new hospital in Markdale and community health centre in places like Flesherton, and Dundalk and Markdale and a separate doctors’ clinic.
“Well that makes sense in the cities but makes no sense in Markdale, makes no sense in a rural area. It’s taken us almost 10 years to get the urban thinking of government of why should you have a hospital on one street of Markdale and a Community Health Centre four streets over. That works in Toronto. That doesn’t work here,” Hall explained. “Now they are coming to us and saying that’s a great idea. Why don’t we put it all in one place,” he added.
Hall tried to allay the fears of some people at the meeting who worried that the rural health centre would dilute the services that are currently being provided by the hospital in Markdale.
“The good news is this is coalescing a lot of what we’ve always wanted into a government initiative. They’ll take it forward and we’ll go with them,” he said.
Hall warned against residents getting their hopes up that approval and funding would soon be happening while the province recovering from the E-health scandal and a showing huge deficit.
“But they have to come out of it and we stand in a very good position. There’s relatively small amount of money required, (it’s) a very popular idea. . .we are in a very good position,” said Hall who sees the rural health centre concept as the way of the future and Markdale on the verge of being the first in the province.
Solecki said so far only $900,000 has been spent on planning for the new hospital of a $3 million grant that former health minister George Smitherman gave the project several years ago. The ministry of health has yet to approve the next stage of planning but the funding is there when that approval is given.
Other speakers at Tuesday’s public information forum included Lera Ryan, chair of the physician recruitment and retention committee, Linda Martin from the Community Care Access Centre, Jo-Anne McConnell of GBHS who spoke on infection control and the need for frequent hand washing and Terry Mokriy of the South East Grey Community Health Centre.