SBGHC resumes in-person meetings after three years

CARGILL – After three years of virtual meetings, the South Bruce Grey Health Centre board of directors held an in-person meeting on March 8, with a few members attending virtually, at the Cargill Community Centre.

Board chair Bill Heikkila said the location was selected because it provided the space that was needed.

Among the highlights of the meeting was the continued attention given to the Chesley hospital situation.

Michael Barrett, CEO, and Heikkila, reiterated what they’ve said at previous meetings – the matter is of the utmost importance to the board, which remains committed to four fully-functioning sites. They’re also fully aware that’s what the community wants. It’s unlikely to happen in the near future in Chesley, Barrett said. The hospital’s emergency room is presently open weekdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed weekends and overnight. Barrett described the staffing situation as “stable but precarious.”

SBGHC is depending on agency nurses to keep the Chesley ER open.

Barrett commented, “We have a great group of dedicated staff (in Chesley); we just don’t have enough of them.”

He noted that SBGHC communications to the community have stressed the importance of going to the nearest ER if they have symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty breathing.

“Don’t wait (for the Chesley ER to open) if urgent care is required,” he said.

SBGHC has presented a recent report on the situation in Chesley to Arran-Elderslie council. The information provided at the board meeting was similar to what council heard.

The situation in Chesley, and the use of agency nurses, has had an impact on SBGHC’s bottom line.

The matter was discussed at several points in the March 8 board meeting. In his Corporate Resources Committee report, Doug Harris said there are 44 open positions for RNs and RPNs. The majority of these positions – 22 – are temporary and casual, with 11 full-time/part-time. This translates to 14 full-time-equivalent positions.

Agency nurses are helping to alleviate the shortage. At present there are 21 RNs and RPNs on the roster, with the majority of them being used at the Walkerton and Chesley sites.

Since January 2022, there have been 32 hires, with a turnover of 27. There are 28 (nine full-time and 19 part-time) currently on leave.

The use of agency nurses comes at a high cost – $1.7 million, said Harris.

Numbers for the year to date show a deficit of $585,000, with a year-end deficit of $1.3 million predicted. The main drivers are agency nurses ($1.7 million) and sick and overtime ($700,000).

Harris said the board is presently awaiting word from the Ministry of Health on whether funding will be provided for agency nurses.

Barrett said in his report to the board that the province has made a commitment to human resource programs in health care, in the form of the enhanced extern program, which SBGHC has utilized in past years. Other programs including for internationally-trained nurses have also been extended.

In closing the meeting, Heikkila commended Barrett for his many contributions to SBGHC. Among other things, Barrett saw SBGHC through COVID, and brought to fruition many capital improvements such as the CT scanner and major redevelopment project in Kincardine.

This was Barrett’s final board meeting. In an interview following the meeting, Barrett said there are many accomplishments in which he takes pride.

The first is the financial stability of the organization. He said when he came aboard, SBGHC had a $1.7 million deficit (on a $42 million budget) but has operated in a balanced position ever since. Putting SBGHC in a solid financial position was accomplished by having “the right number of beds, etc.” Barrett said.

He also takes great pride in the expansion in Kincardine, noting the project had “several false starts” over the years, but has gone much further in the process than ever before.

“The new CT scanner powered up yesterday,” he said on March 10. “I’m proud of that.”

The year 2021 was a busy and productive one for SBGHC despite being in the middle of COVID. Barrett described the new strategic plan, done in-house.

SBGHC has joined an interhospital lab partnership that includes a number of local hospitals and provides high-quality lab services for patients.

Another point of pride for Barrett was the hiring of a professional practice co-ordinator (staff trainer). He said it was something the nurses wanted and were looking for.

The IT department has grown to where it ensures the organization is well protected in terms of cyber security.

Under Barrett’s watch, a lot of effort has gone into infrastructure, with record investments in heading, cooling, and ventilation.

“We’re in a really strong position,” he said.

He credits most of what he’s accomplished to the leadership team, commending Drew Braithwaite, chief financial officer, for his work on the CT scanner project, and others for their ongoing efforts on behalf of SBGHC.

“It takes the whole team,” he said.

KROC: CT scanner has arrived

“This is a very exciting time,” said Heikkila in his report on the Kincardine Redevelopment Oversight Committee (KROC) report.

He noted the scanner arrived the same day as the KROC meeting. Installation is now underway, with the scanner “going live” on March 20 and an open house and ribbon cutting planned for later in the month.

Heikkila noted discussion is ongoing about how the MRI will fit into the proposed redevelopment plan.

Walkerton foundation plans ‘Evening in Tuscany’ Gala

The Walkerton and District Hospital Foundation made a presentation to the SBGHC on the upcoming Moonlight Gala. This year’s theme for the April 29 event is “Evening in Tuscany.”

The event features a wonderful evening of “mingling, silent and live auctions, and a fabulous dinner.”

Proceeds will be used to purchase important pieces of medical equipment.

The foundation is also holding a raffle for a trip for two to Italy, and is conducting monthly fundraisers.

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