Health policy analyst cool on the idea of a JBMH upgrade; advocates for community based health delivery instead.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 26, 2011  –  Burlington`s Strategic plan calls for the city to set aside $10 million a year for the next six years to pay for a part of the upgrading of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital which the province has promised would take place in 2013.  The Mayor`s Inspire series speaker last week seemed to suggest that an upgraded hospital was not what Burlington needed.

Globe and Mail health columnist Andre Picard, an eminent policy analyst in the health field and the recipient of numerous awards including the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service Journalism, the Canadian Policy Research Award, the Atkinson fellowship for public policy research and the Centennial Prize of the Pan American Organization. He was named Canada’s first Public Health Hero by the Canadian Public Health Association and was honoured as a champion of mental health. He is a four-time finalist for the National Newspaper Awards.  In other words he is thought of as someone who knows what he is talking about.  So when he suggests that upgrading of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital was not necessarily the best thing to do with the limited resources available we might want to sit up and listen.

Andre Picard, a noted authority on heath services policy and lead columnist for the Globe & Mail was just a little cool to the idea of a new hospital for Burlington at the Mayor's Inspire series last week.

Picard outlined the need for community delivered health services which led to Our Burlington asking Mr. Picard this question:  If you are calling for a community based system to deliver health service because that is more cost effective delivery and better health – then does Burlington need a major upgrade to the Joseph Brant Memorial hospital ?

Picard equivocated a bit with his answer when he said it would depend on there being hospitals close at hand that could deliver the kind of service that only a hospital can provide and then added that he thought an upgraded hospital in Burlington was probably a good thing, more or less.  More or less?  That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement was it?

Using his criteria – one could argue (and the provincial government might well do that)  that there are excellent hospitals in Hamilton and Oakville which are a very short ambulance drive away.  You can get to a Hamilton  hospital from Lowville faster than you can get to JBMH.

Does Burlington then need an upgrade to its hospital?  Asking that question in this city and you have really put the fat in the fire.  All three candidates in the recent provincial election swore on their Mother’s graves that they would fight mightily to have the province give a firm commitment – with a date attached to it – guaranteeing that our hospital would get the upgrade it needs and which we were promised.

And now we hear from one of the best thinkers in the country suggesting that a new hospital in Burlington might not be what’s best for the community.  Isn’t that ducky?

We know the province doesn’t have any money, and we know that our economy is getting more wobbly every week.  But no one at the provincial level is suggesting that Burlington might want to look at a different model to meet the needs of its aging population.

The city did, what it thought was best, and what the province required them to do, and that was put up $10 million a year for six years to pay for a portion of the cost of the upgrade, we have been told was totally necessary.

The city and the hospital are still working out how the $60 million the city is going to put into the kitty will be spent.  At this point it looks like the city’s money will be used to pay for the building of a parking lot, because the space now being used to park cars is needed for the expansion that is planned.  The city hasn’t written the cheque yet – maybe they want to put a hold on it and ask the hospital to sit with them and take another look at the plans.

Andre Picard, speaker at the Mayor's Inspire series has given Mayor Goldring much to think about, when he came out as less than enthusiastic about the planned JBMH upgrade.

That will take a level of political courage that is seldom seen.

The long term outlook for a new hospital in Burlington just might need a real hard look before we do something really dumb.  Added to Picard’s  Wednesday evening comments, were remarks made in the provincial Legislature on Thursday, where an NDP member read out the list of hospital upgrades the province is talking about – more than 20 of them.  In the economy we are in it just can`t happen.  And someone needs to begin to be much more honest with the people who live here, pay the taxes and expect the public health services they need

Every candidate in the last provincial election said they would ensure that we got the hospital upgrade – what wasn’t asked was – do we need a hospital upgrade?  Every candidate said, what they thought you wanted to hear.  Not one of them had done their homework.  One of them, Liberal candidate Karmel Sakran, used to sit on the hospital board and was as close to the center of political power as one can get – and he never suggested, that perhaps the hospital model we are working within is the wrong model.

All the candidates just mouthed, what they thought the voters wanted to hear.  Should the province decide that Burlington is not the place for a large expensive hospital, and that we should have a number of community care centres spread throughout the city – – just wait for the political howling.

JBMH president Eric Vandewall might want to have lunch with Inspire speaker and noted authority on public health service delivery and talk about the best form of public insitution to meet the needs of the community. Mayor Goldring might want to sit in on that lunch - even pick up the tab if some sensible thinking comes out of the meal.

Picard`s comments suggest that Burlington might not have made the smartest move.  Is the city – that means both the citizens, its city council and the senior hospital staff plus the Board of Directors – courageous enough to ask the hard questions  like, is this really the best thing for the city and its citizens?

One would hope that the Mayor would take the opportunity to have dinner with Picard and ask some hard-nosed questions.  Maybe even ask for some advice as well on how we determine what is best for the city.  In the meantime, don’t write the cheque that would deliver the $20 million plus  sitting in the bank.

Let’s be absolutely sure we are doing what is best for the community and not just what’s best for the medical community who would love to have a shiny new building.

 

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