* Editor’s note: This letter was written by MPP Monte McNaughton and was sent to Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
This letter intends to give you information regarding local concerns about the future of the Sydenham District Hospital (SDH) in Wallaceburg, in my riding of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.
The Chatham Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) administers two hospitals in Chatham and one in Wallaceburg. CKHA has been told that, due to a change in the allocation of funding for hospitals based on the population of the serviced area, CKHA will receive from the Ministry $2.5 million less than previously expected. This has led to a current deficit position.
On March 21st I asked a question of you in the Legislature as to whether your ministry had any plans to close the emergency department at Sydenham District Hospital, thus effectively eliminating its status as a hospital. You replied in the negative which I accepted. However, I am compelled to point out that much of the cost-saving that CKHA has found over the years has come at the expense of services in Wallaceburg.
On March 23rd there was held a public meeting of the Sydenham District Hospital Corporation. This meeting was attended by local municipal councillors, the CAO of the Health Alliance and his senior staff, by civic members of the SDH and members of the public, and by me. At this meeting the CAO of the Health Alliance stated that he intended to ask your ministry for a grant of $10 million. The stated purpose of this grant was somewhat equivocal because while he insisted that he had never participated in discussions to close the SDH emergency department the CAO implied that, other than to cover the budgetary deficit, the money would be intended to go to a new facility in Wallaceburg where, in partnership with “other health providers,” something less than an ER but more than a ‘walk-in clinic’ would serve the needs of Wallaceburg and district.
Minister, there are certain points in this case of which you should be made aware. First, local opinion is strongly opposed to any proposal to downgrade the emergency facilities at SDH. While the emergency facilities at SDH may not compare to those in a large urban hospital the ability to stabilize patients in need of higher grade emergency care is crucial. Chatham hospitals are thirty minutes away from Wallaceburg and forty-five minutes away from Walpole Island. Apart from the risks to peoples’ health there is a sense that the economy of the Wallaceburg area would suffer greatly if it was not able to provide industry with emergency care. I would also point out that the largest “industry” in the area is agriculture which can be notoriously hazardous. The catchment area for SDH includes Wallaceburg, all of north Kent and much of south Lambton counties, and the Walpole Island First Nation. I believe the estimated number of residents served by SDH is 25,000.
Secondly, the SDH building in Wallaceburg is in a state of disrepair. There is much disagreement as to how bad the situation is, and to what has been the cause. Local opinion, with some justification, believes that SDH has been starved of funds for many years while its various departments have been closed and moved to Chatham. Should the eventual plan of the CKHA be to abandon their Wallaceburg campus has the CKHA, (and the LHIN, and your ministry) examined the SDH building either for possible re-use or for the cost of demolition? In the latter case I would remind you of the large unforeseen costs surrounding hospital demolitions in Windsor and Sarnia in recent years.
Thirdly, it is highly unlikely that the Chatham hospitals of the CKHA are able to accommodate any further increase in their emergency care load. Already waiting times in Chatham ER are unacceptable; several emergency cases each week are directed to Wallaceburg from Chatham.
I would make myself available to you for further discussion of this situation at any time. I would further propose that you join me in attending a public meeting of the SDH Corporation at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday April 19th in Wallaceburg. This meeting will be the occasion of the election of the SDH board of directors for 2016-07 and there is certain to be discussion of future plans. As a matter of interest the SDH board is the only one of the three hospital boards in the CKHA which is openly elected by members of the community who are members of the Corporation.
Monte McNaughton MPP, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex