Mon, June 8, 2009
HEALTH CARE: A provincial agency is planning changes in the London region
Mike Barrett knows he's walking a minefield.
The chief executive of the South West Local Health Integration Network, Barrett is leader of the provincial agency working on The Blueprint, a plan to overhaul the health system in the London region.
"It is about having the right services, in the right place, at the right time, by the right provider," Barrett says.
But any change in health care runs the risk of triggering a public explosion, such as experienced in neighbouring Erie-St. Clair LHIN when a report recommended closing the emergency department at Petrolia. The town's family doctors promptly resigned in protest and the plan was abandoned.
Barrett says the South West LHIN board, which oversees health care in a region that includes almost one million people, is treading carefully as the blueprint is drafted over the next few months.
"Hospitals and health care are very near and dear to the hearts of communities," he says.
"When you start talking about any change to a hospital or service, the reaction can be intense," says Barrett.
That might turn out to be an understatement.
It will be impossible to please everyone, with an agency whose influence ranges from the number of beds in a cancer unit to how often elderly people receive supplementary care in their homes.
Both the process and the LHIN itself have critics, who see the bodies created by the provincial Liberals three years ago as a way for politicians to dodge the political heat when health care cuts are made.
"It is a good way for the government to hide . . . They hide behind the LHIN, yet they appointed these people," said Kathryn Gordyn, co-chairperson of Strathroy-Caradoc and Area Concerned Citizens, a group that has fought local hospital cuts.
When beds are cut, MPPs say they're not the ones doing it, she said.
"They say, 'We didn't do it, it is the LHINs.' But they are doing it. When you pay the piper, you call the tune. It is as simple as that," Gordyn said.
Gordyn questions the expertise of the non-elected LHIN board to make far-reaching health decisions.
The South West LHIN board includes a retired nurse, former medical lab technologist and a clinical psychologist. The other members are a retired municipal administrator, a veterinarian, a former Ontario Hydro human resources officer, a retired school principal, university business professor and a former school board trustee.
Barrett doesn't want to talk about what the cuts might be, or about who might be the winners and losers, in an exercise that is to be completed by Oct. 28, when it goes to the LHIN board for approval.
"The message we want to deliver is we are improving health care for everyone because it shouldn't be about winners and losers. It should be about ensuring people have access to those services that they need locally, but also better access to those services that are provided on a regional or provincewide basis," Barrett says.
Still, he says, only so many centres will provide specialized care.
"You can't have the expectation that it is going to be provided in all of our 19 public hospitals that exist across the South West LHIN," he says. (The 20th hospital under the LHIN's mandate is a private one in Woodstock.)
To design the blueprint, the LHIN board has struck a 16-member committee that includes hospital officials across the region, physicians and service agencies.
It has held a two-day private session with 150 health-care providers in Owen Sound and has scheduled another session in London today and tomorrow. They are not open to the general public or the media.
That is being followed up with 11 public forums in July in communities from Lion's Head to St. Thomas. Six more public sessions are scheduled for September.
"People will have an opportunity to say what they would like to see," Barrett says.
John Miner is The Free Press health reporter. email@example.com
It is a good way for the government to hide.
Kathryn Gordyn, co-chairperson of Strathroy-Caradoc and Area Concerned Citizens, a critic of LHIN
LHIN by the numbers
Budget: $1.8 billion
Population served: 910,000
Counties served: 8 -- Middlesex (includes London), Elgin (includes St. Thomas), Huron, Perth, Grey, Bruce, Oxford, Norfolk
Provides funding to:
- 20 hospitals
- 1 community care access centre (South West CCAC)
- 72 long-term care homes (6,636 beds)
- 62 community support services
- 2 community health centres (with three in development)
- 28 mental health agencies
- 14 addiction agencies