Brockton calls for third-party review of hospital service reductions in Walkerton, Chesley

·7 min read

BRUCE COUNTY – Just before Christmas, Bruce County council’s executive committee voted unanimously in favour of a call for the province to conduct a third-party review of service reductions at the Walkerton and Chesley hospitals.

A further motion, also approved unanimously, called for the county to go ahead and provide $2,500 in funding for its own immediate third-party review, with the municipality of Brockton taking the lead.

County Coun. Chris Peabody, mayor of Brockton, said, “It’s fine to ask the province for a third-party review, but it would be several months … we need to take action.”

On Monday, Dec. 20, South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) announced that effective Dec. 27, for an indefinite period, Walkerton hospital’s emergency department would be closed overnight, and the in-patient unit at the Chesley hospital would change to an alternate level of care unit.

Brockton held a special meeting of council that same day to address the issue. Peabody also met with his Arran-Elderslie counterpart Steve Hammell, along with MPPs Lisa Thompson and Bill Walker. Thompson promised to take the matter to Ontario Health. Peabody said that as of the date of the county’s meeting, he hadn’t heard back from Ontario Health.

Both the SBGHC’s measures are aimed at freeing up registered nurses to work in other areas, in the face of a critical staffing shortage.

The emergency department at the Chesley site had already seen overnight service cut two years ago, with the promise it would be restored as soon as the staffing situation stabilized.

Caring for ALC patients – people who no longer require hospital treatment while awaiting placements in a long-term care facility – requires fewer registered nurses and allows the use of more personal support workers.

At the county’s executive committee meeting, Peabody, proposed making an information item – Arran-Elderslie’s call for the province to launch the third-party review – an action item.

Peabody warned that the decision to close the Walkerton emergency room at night will impact many Bruce County residents. “It’s going to dump more people on Kincardine’s ER and Hanover’s ER.” Not only will the latter mean taking ambulances out of Bruce County’s service area, it could mean having to call in more ambulances. It will most certainly have a negative impact on residents of Brucelea Haven.

“All levels of government need to stand up and speak up, to ensure health care in rural Ontario is not eroded further,” Peabody said.

The nursing shortage isn’t new, he said, and it’s not unique to the area. What he finds “concerning” is the fact the north part of Grey-Bruce doesn’t seem to be affected to the same extent. The third-party study is needed to find out “why Walkerton and Chesley are having such a problem with nurse attraction and retention.”

He added that he’d like “local government” to fund this study, giving as a precedent the county’s financial assistance in funding a third-party study on a proposed school closure in Paisley.

“Can the Kincardine ER handle any more (patients)? Probably not,” Peabody said. “Hanover? Probably not.” He noted there was one night in Hanover the previous week when four people had to be resuscitated. The Walkerton ER had to resuscitate eight. “Twelve in the Hanover ER? That hospital is not going to be able to treat our citizens safely,” he said.

Hammell said his council had met the day before the county meeting and decided “the province would be our plan A.”

However, he also commented on the “$20,000 for the Paisley school. We do have a school, from the county and municipalities working together.”

Hammell further noted turning the Chesley hospital into an ALC unit will have a “negative impact on recruiting nurses and doctors … and create negativeness at the Chesley site. It’s a step backward, not toward a 24/7 emergency room,” which has been the SBGHC board’s promise for the past two years.

“This is a very big deal in Arran-Elderslie,” he said. “I’d like a full in-depth look at what’s happening.”

He requested the motion be amended to include South Bruce.

Warden Janice Jackson asked about the timeline, and was told about the Dec. 27 implementation date. “That’s not much time,” she said.

Cost analysis needed

Peabody said a cost analysis from the county is needed to show the impact of the SBGHC’s decision on other services. “This has the potential of adding significant costs to our EMS … if there’s one call in Mildmay, going to Hanover, and one in Cargill, going to Kincardine … it’s awfully hard to backfill that.” And it has the potential for “some negative outcomes” for the people being transported.”

Peabody acknowledged the county wants to expand EMS to Sauble Beach, but may have to add a crew and ambulance because of the Walkerton emergency room situation. “I don’t think we should have to put more money into this by a decision by a board of a hospital that is unelected, that didn’t really, apart from last Wednesday (the Dec. 15 virtual public meeting) consult with us.”

He said he wants to “get going on the third-party review, and although he agrees with Hammell about the province funding it, said, “We know how fast they move.”

The warden’s motion in favour of county support for the study was notably supported by county councillors Gerry Glover, Kincardine, and Milt McIver, Northern Bruce Peninsula.

County Coun. Robert Buckle, South Bruce, said his council is meeting the second Tuesday in January and he wants to bring forward an item to provide a share of the $10,000 Brockton called for, to fund the third-party review.

“I totally support this,” said Glover. “There have been many times we have been at the cusp of closing our (Kincardine’s) ER,” a situation he described as “unconscionable.”

Glover spoke of feedback he’s received that “site-specific” work may be better for nurses than the “multi-site workers” the hospital corporation requires them to be. He spoke of a situation whereby a staff person might report for work at one site and be told to travel to another site, without pay for travel time. “I do not hesitate to support this (motion),” Glover said, and thanked Peabody and Hammell for taking the lead.

The warden spoke of the four-way partnership in the third-party study – the county, Brockton, Arran-Elderslie and South Bruce.

At Peabody’s request, council first passed Arran-Elderslie’s motion calling for the province to conduct a third-party review, then passed a motion for a “parallel move co-ordinated by Brockton,” saying he’d like to get moving on the review. “If the province funds it, great. But I’m not confident.”

After both motions were passed, Glover added, “I appreciate the direction council is going,” and suggested issuing a press release “to show solidarity with health-care workers.” That motion also passed unanimously.

A copy of the Arran-Elderslie motion will be sent to MPP Bill Walker - Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, MPP Lisa Thompson - Huron-Bruce, MP Alex Ruff, and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, Grey County, and the municipalities of Brockton, South Bruce, Chatsworth, and Hanover.

“We are actively taking steps to have these service reductions reviewed, ensuring that all alternatives are considered for our local hospitals,” commented Jackson. “Bruce County wishes to express our most sincere thanks and appreciation to all health-care workers who are going above and beyond in our Bruce County hospitals, long-term care homes, and pharmacies, safeguarding our region through this pandemic. The care you provide is vital, and your dedication and resiliency are inspiring us all.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting