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The future of the operating room at Meaford's hospital, and ultimately the future of the hospital itself has created concern in the community after signals from Grey Bruce Health Service in November that changes could be on the way, and that concern has spawned a petition that has been circulating in the community.

Recently, Mr. Lance Thurston, CEO of Grey Bruce Regional Health Services announced the Potential closure of the Meaford Hospital Operating Room!” reads the introduction to the petition document. “If this happens, Surgical Operations performed in Meaford, Wiarton, Southampton and Markdale will be done in Owen Sound and all equipment relating to surgery will be moved from the rural sites to Owen Sound Hospital. Local residents of each community will be deprived of primary care close to their homes. The ability to recruit family physicians will be reduced and the impact on local jobs and economies will be devastating.”

thurston bghs at council270At their November 21 meeting, Meaford council was told that the Grey Bruce Health Services (GBHS) is facing the prospect of $17 million annual deficits by 2019/20 unless significant changes are made to its cost structure, and that could mean bad news for rural hospitals like Meaford's.

Lance Thurston, GBHS President and CEO, told council that the problems began with changes to the provincial funding formula that hit the GBHS particularly hard.

We're planning for the worst, but we're hoping for the best,” Thurston told council. “We have been advocating, very quietly, very professionally, with the LHIN (Local Health Integration Network), with the Ministry of Health, with our other partners, to try and get the word out that we are particularly hard hit. The funding which changed back in 2014-15, was reset last year, and that reset hit us.”

Thurston told council that of the 32 hospital corporations negatively impacted by the funding changes, five were considered to have had a significant impact, with the GBHS topping that list. In the six years prior to the changes to the provincial funding formula, the GBHS saw surpluses each year totalling $12.7 million, however this year a $4.5 million deficit is expected, and deficits of $7 million next year, $12 million in 2018/19, and $17 million in 2019/20 are being forecast by the GBHS.

Thurston said that in addition to lobbying government agencies, the GBHS board is working to find areas to cut costs in order to create a sustainable organization by 2020, which will require a reduction in annual expenditures of $17 million.

Among the cost-cutting measures being considered by the board are the consolidation of surgical services to the Owen Sound hospital, which would close operating rooms in rural hospitals including Meaford's, reviewing transportation costs, reviewing physician billing and cost recovery, and reviewing IT costs.

Revenues have got to somehow match reasonable expenditures,” Thurston told council. “The way it is now is not sustainable, and this is for virtually every hospital in Ontario, not just us. If you're in an urban centre with a growth population, a single site, the funding formula is your friend. But for us, with a stagnant population, it's not working for us.”

The petition currently circulating in the community asks residents to sign the document and to send copies to Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller, and Meaford Mayor Barb Clumpus.

We the citizens do not believe the hospital administration has the mandate to remove fundamental rights of our residents to have basic primary health care close to home. Administration has no right to destroy our local economy nor to decrease our ability to recruit physicians to work at the local sites. Administration has shown a total disrespect for local residents’ wishes on how local donations are to be used. This is a dangerous precedent. We the citizens of Meaford ask that you intervene on our behalf!” requests the petition.

The board is currently awaiting a decision regarding their request for a review of the funding formula for rural hospitals, but that decision isn't expected to be made until sometime in February or March of this year.

The next meeting of the GBHS's Board is scheduled for January 23. Staff input will be presented at that meeting. Thurston told council in November that before any final decisions are made, there will be public meetings held that will allow residents to express their views and concerns.

Those wanting to sign the petition and send to their local representatives can click here for a PDF copy of the document.