StephenVance 540In recent years rural municipalities in Ontario have been, well, let's just be blunt, they've been getting screwed by upper levels of government, particularly the province.

It's no secret, we've all seen it happening before our eyes. Rural schools are being closed, long-term care beds are in jeopardy, and as we are all very well aware in this community, our hospitals in the GBHS, after years of posting surpluses, have been hobbled by a revised funding formula that has resulted in current and projected future deficits unless some fairly drastic measures are undertaken.

As is so often the case, the folks taking the bulk of the heat over proposed measures to right the ship are the folks that quite likely would be just as content to change nothing at all, particularly because prior to the revisions to the funding formula, our hospitals in the GBHS were in the black, and running just fine. I feel for the GBHS board and CEO, who have had to face the public with some proposed solutions, including the consolidation of surgical services to the Owen Sound hospital, which if implemented would mean the discontinuation of day surgeries in Meaford, Southampton, and Markdale.

Some have feared that such a move would be just one step in the direction of closing our hospital altogether, but I truly believe that the GBHS board has zero interest in closing any of their facilities. It wouldn't make sense for the GBHS board to want to close any of its facilities as it would create pressures at the remaining facilities that wouldn't be easily overcome.

Let's face it, if the GBHS board wanted to simply slash and burn in order to operate within the revised funding formula, the closure of a hospital or two would quite likely top their list of proposed measures, but that isn't the case. Those who have sat through the presentations made by the GBHS CEO in recent weeks know that dozens of potential cost-saving measures have been under consideration, and given the circumstances, some of those proposed measures – including the consolidation of surgical services – make sense.

Based on the long list of potential measures that have been explored by the board (which included a proposal to consolidate rural surgical services to Meaford's hospital, though that move would have only saved $270,000 per year as opposed to the $550,000 in annual savings that could be realized by consolidating those services to Owen Sound), they've done their homework, and they appear to have done as much as they can to minimize the impact that any of the proposed cost saving measures would have on the rural communities served by the GBHS.

Not to minimize the issue, but I suspect that many in the community won't even notice if the consolidation of surgical services measure is implemented. An interesting fact included in the reports from the GBHS is that, of all the surgeries currently conducted in Meaford's hospital, Meaford residents account for just 28 percent, with the rest coming from outside the municipality. In the 12 years I've lived in this municipality I've had two day surgeries and neither were done at the Meaford hospital, so travelling a half hour to a neighbouring community for a day surgery is already something we in this town (and most other towns) are already doing with great frequency.

Some have suggested that rural Ontario is being punished by our Liberal government for overwhelmingly having voted Conservative in the last election, a suggestion that I don't fully embrace, yet I can't dismiss it outright – politics can be a nasty, vindictive business. More likely, I think, is the perception that rural Ontario just doesn't have the voting power that large urban ridings have, and so we rural folks get barrel scraps from the province.

The hospital funding issue, like the rural school issue, isn't a fight that can be waged by a single or small group of rural municipalities. If we want to reverse this apparent trend of the province sticking it to rural Ontario, we need to see large numbers of rural communities band together and bring the fight to Queen's Park. We can get angry and call our local representatives all the names we want, it won't change a damned thing because we're really only shooting the messenger.

Rural communities also need to unite in the next provincial election with a strong, loud voice to remind those south of Highway 9 that we exist, and we need access to services every bit as much as those in urban centres.

With regard to moving day surgeries out of the Meaford hospital, my own opinion is that given the current realities that we're dealing with, it makes a lot of sense, and I don't see it as a stepping stone to closing our hospital.

That the proposal makes some sense however, doesn't make it the best option. The best option would be for the province to revamp the funding formula so that rural hospitals don't get the short straw time after time. For the best options, we rural folks have to grab our figurative torches and pitchforks and head to Queen's Park, where we need to holler until our lungs are sore, and we've been heard.

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