A group of community supporters has lost patience with The Scarborough Hospital, calling its messages about upcoming cost-saving decisions “condescending,” repetitive and arrogant.
Friends of The Scarborough Hospital this week told the TSH board the hospital “continues to follow an approach that pre-empts good faith” in its current strategic planning exercise and treats interested residents like children.
“As a 69-year-old man, I resent being treated as a 13-year-old boy,” Pat Sherman, a spokesperson for the group, said at a board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8.
For months, the hospital has held talks on a coming “health system transformation,” predicting “profound” changes in the way Ontario hospitals, including itself, provide care.
Sherman, one of a small number of residents who attended several talks, charged the community has not been able to take part “at an adult level” in what appears to be a “major overhaul” of hospital services.
The hospital received a report last year on its Maternal Newborn and Child Care Program which found “a signficant decrease” in deliveries at the General and Birchmount campuses and estimated TSH could save up to $5 million by consolidating the program at one campus.
Sherman said members of his group are hearing “all kinds of rumours” from hospital employees suggesting, despite administration assurances, “certain critical services are being moved from the Birchmount campus” so that its 24-hour Emergency Room “could end up fading away.”
Sherman admitted group members - who say they realize the hospital is in a difficult position - hadn’t heard officially any consolidations had been approved.
“Neither have we,” responded Michael Mueller, a former board chairperson, who maintained nothing has been decided yet.
Mueller said board members will be at a retreat next Tuesday, Jan. 15, to see for the first time what internal management teams and the Hay Group, consultants for the strategic plan exercise, have to say.
The administration will go to the community soon after with potential recommendations, and say, “Help us make the best decision,” Mueller said, but insisted the Birchmount’s 24-hour ER “has been a must-have at the hospital” and putting it at risk has never been discussed.
“We’re not hiding anything,” he added later, saying the recommendations will present savings that add up to more than the hospital’s projected 2013 budget shortfall of $17 million, so the community can choose.
“If the community says, ‘save this, cut this,’ we have to listen to it.”
Administrators were hoping to have the recommendations in hand last month, but officials say the timetable proved too ambitious.
“The good news is the consultant said, ‘You’re not wasting any money,’” Mueller said.
“The bad news is there’s no low-hanging fruit.”
CEO Dr. John Wright, meanwhile, has spoken to more than 2,000 people about the hospital’s situation in the last 45 days or so, added Mueller. “The overwhelming number get it.”
The final set of evening meetings presenting the hospital’s message but no specifics on the choices it may face are scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Malvern Community Centre and next Monday, Jan. 14, at Cedarbrook Community Centre.
Sherman and the Friends group first brought its criticisms of the hospital’s community engagement process to a Dec. 19 board meeting of the Central East Local Health Integration Network, the body which funds health care in Scarborough.
Slides in the group’s presentation complain of “meetings with no plan and no proposal” and “TSH senior management arrogance,” before asking the LHIN to make the process more transparent for residents and to “help our community get answers.”
Board members this week, however, said the hospital has tried to involve the community as early in the process as it could.
“We are on the same page,” said Vu Tran, a family physician at his first meeting as a member who wondered why things had turned so antagonistic.
“Why are we fighting over rumours?” he asked.
Being an Emergency Room doctor himself, “there’s no way I’m going to let these guys cut” the ERs, Tran said. “I’m going to fight damn hard.”
The board will have to make tough decisions – and it may be 10 or 15 years before people can say if it made the right ones – but it will come to the community and make those decisions together, he said.