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Simcoe hospitals seek $30 million from county over 10 years

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Guy Chartrand, speaking to Simcoe County Council.

Guy Chartrand, speaking to Simcoe County Council.

The presidents of seven hospitals serving patients in Simcoe County are looking for a renewed commitment from the country government to help serve capital needs.

In the past 22 years, Simcoe County has put more than $62 million toward the hospitals, which formed the Simcoe County Hospital Alliance in 2002. This year marks the final year of a 10-year $30 million commitment from the county. The alliance is hopeful to renew the agreement for a further 10 years at $3 million each year.

“We would be very grateful if Simcoe County is able to do a renewal,” said Guy Chartrand, chair of the alliance and president and CEO at Collingwood General and Marine Hospital. “Capital projects just don't happen over night; they take 10-12 years. That's why the $30 million... helps us to better plan and gives us a bit of certainty to get through these mega million dollar projects.”

Capital costs at Ontario hospitals are 90% covered by the province. Equipment costs – except for radiation treatment equipment – are born exclusively by the individual hospitals. The hospitals represented by the alliance include Collingwood, Georgian Bay General, Orillia Soldiers' Memorial (OSMH), Southlake (located in Newmarket, but serving a considerable number of residents in southern Simcoe), Stevenson Memorial (SMH), Royal Victoria (RVH) and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

Chartrand was before county councillors Tuesday during committee-of-the-whole to provide an update on the hospitals, where the money is spent and what kind of projects are looming. More than $1.5 billion in capital upgrades are looming for the seven hospitals, including a new facility for Collingwood and redevelopment projects at OSMH, RVH and SMH.

“It's a very capital intensive industry,” Chartrand said. “Given the big numbers, any support that hospitals can receive in moving forward is greatly appreciated.”

But whether or not this is the kind of money the county needs to continue to spend was on the mind on a few of the councillors around the table, including Coun. Rob Kloostra of Orillia.

“It's a difficult time for health care all around,” he said. “It's fine to throw money at the hospitals, but you're not doing anything to get the people out of the hospitals.”

Chartrand stressed this kind of buy-in from the county and the municipalities is essential to show the government how vital such capital improvements are to the communities. He agreed spending money on keeping people out of hospital is as important as spending money on those hospitals, but argued you can ignore one facet of health care at the expense of the other.

“You need to do both” Chartrand said, saying pressures on hospitals in Simcoe will increase, as the population grows and demographics shift with the ageing population.

“The complexity of care that will continue to be placed on hospitals – and the pressure that's going to continue to evolve - so we need to stay ahead of that,” he added. “But at the same time, it's important that we build capacity alongside that. In our community, if there's a better way to provide patient care... then why not do it?”

The presentation also provided an update as to how certain aspects of the hospitals are performing, such as emergency room wait times. Those numbers caused as much concern as the dollar figures. Southlake remained the best in the province for the the time it takes to be assessed by a physician, at 1.3 hours, but RVH was three hours longer, the worst of the seven hospitals and nearing the low-end of the provincial spectrum.

Barrie Coun. Arif Khan called the difference between RVH and even the average time of the seven facilities, let alone Southlake, “gargantuan.”

“Something's obviously not right,” he said. “Something is obviously wrong.”

There are more to the emergency room numbers than meets the eye, Chartrand said.

“It's not only the physical structure that we work within, which will allow us to deliver so much capacity, there's also an operational aspect,” he said. “It's like traffic on the 400. Depending on the time you drive, you might have a bottleneck. We can't control the volumes at all times. The volumes come through the doors and we have to handle it.”