StephenVance 540One thing we can say with certainty about Meaford residents is that they are passionate, and will fight for their community when necessary. We've seen evidence of this recently with the circulation of a petition aimed at voicing concern that Meaford's hospital could lose its operating room.  The passion of Meaford's residents is one of many things that I love about this town, but as with any passionate individual, from time to time Meaford as a community needs to be reined in.

I've lost count of the number of people I've heard over the past couple of weeks insisting that we must fight for Meaford's hospital because there's talk of closing it – untrue. I've heard many people suggest that the decision has already been made to close Meaford's operating room – in fact one of the petitions I've seen floating around town says that very thing. Also untrue.

What is true is that the Grey Bruce Health Services is facing the prospect of $17 million in annual deficits by 2019 after years of surpluses, thanks to a change in the provincial funding formula for hospitals that has had an adverse impact on the GBHS.

As a result, the GBHS board is doing a couple of things: they are lobbying the province for assistance, or even better, changes to the funding formula, and they are taking a long look at their operations in order to determine where cost savings can be found.

The list of options being considered by the board is long, and consolidation of surgical services is just one of the many decisions the board might make. And I agree that, should that option be embraced by the GBHS board, the fear of losing some of the rural hospitals operated by the GBHS altogether in the future would not be an unreasonable fear. But we're not there yet, and I would encourage Meaford residents to take a deep breath and deal with one issue at a time.

Circulating a petition to drum up support in the community, to send a message to the GBHS board as well as the province, that we in Meaford value our hospital, and that we don't want to see surgical services consolidated to the Owen Sound hospital is precisely the type of democratic lobbying that should be taking place right now – there's no need to pepper the issue with false or misleading facts.

Before any decision is made by the board, there will be public meetings that will allow residents in Grey-Bruce to express their opinions, and to lobby board members to take the consolidation of surgical services off the table – so you're not going to wake up one morning to find that in the middle of the night some mysterious and secret board has closed up the operating rooms in rural hospitals in Grey and Bruce. There's a long road to travel before we get to that point.

Does that mean we shouldn't be ready for further action, perhaps even protests should the board opt to consolidate surgical services? No, we should absolutely be ready if and when that time comes, but for now, let's keep level heads.

The issue at hand is the operating room services currently offered at the Meaford hospital, and whether those services will continue. Nothing more, and nothing less.

What strikes me is that when I ask people what they think of all of the other potential cost saving measures that are being considered by the GBHS, nine times out of ten I receive blank stares. Yes, it's true, there are many options being considered.

To hopefully put things in perspective, here's a list of options the GBHS board has been and will be considering, pulled from the presentation they made to Meaford's council in November:

Wave One:

Surgical Services Review

Clinical Capacity Review

Skill Mix

Ambulatory Care Review

Physician Billing and Recovery

QBP funding maximization

Transportation Costs

IT Renewal

Wave Two:

Cafeteria reviews

Owen Sound retail pharmacy/gift shop remodel

Energy management

Review of uninsured items (D-listed OHIP items)

Laundry services

Case costing

The GBHS board will also consider a lengthy list of suggestions made by GBHS staff and physicians:

Close a site

Pharmacy order restructure

Review staff models/overtime reduction

Expand discharge lounge

Maximize OR usage and resources

Solar power/energy conservation

Review mandatory training

Supply chain/purchasing

Length of stay initiatives

Consider outsourcing of services

Reduce printing costs

Parking revenues

Review of service agreements

Long-term capital planning

Space planning

Back-office integration

So no, there has been no decision made, as some believe, to close Meaford's operating room, and there is no suggestion at this time, as some believe, to close our hospital all together. Rather there has been a warning from the GBHS that Queen's Park has yet again failed to consider any realities that take place north of Highway 7, and our regional hospital service, the GBHS, is in very real danger of sinking very deeply into the red unless something changes.

Get those petitions in, and be sure to follow the news in order to find out when and where the public meetings will be held, but don't freak out just yet, and don't partake in the dissemination of false information – that helps nobody.

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