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OPINION: CAC Chair says, WLMH troubles result of HHS administrative choices

By Andrew Smith

As Chair of the Community Advisory Committee, there have been positive announcements over the past several years with the announcement of the new hospital by the MOHLTC (Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care) but at the same time there have been many frustrations and, quite frankly, disappointments.

Hamilton Health Sciences has done a great deal of good work improving the facility and service levels in other areas at WLMH, but there have been a couple of significant strategy fumbles that have impacted obstetrics (OB) services. OB at WLMH has been a cornerstone service for decades.

Thanks to a team of outstanding professionals and a culture of care, we attract expecting mothers from all over Niagara. The positive experience of welcoming a new addition to your family at WLMH is second to none.

It’s a shame to see, with the recent announcement, service levels reduced to a fraction of the volumes we have seen in recent years. Several of the issues in the past year appear to have been forced upon the hospital as the result of poor planning or a lack of due diligence.  Staffing has been an issue for the better part of two years (some would say longer).

Well before endoscopy services and the OR review, WLMH had OR staffing issues.

Many of our nurses were asked to dedicate much more time than is normally the case. Eventually, through the promotion of staff and retirements, the fragile state of staffing collapsed and the hospital found itself with a shortage of OR nurses.

It was only once the staffing crisis arrived that HHS reacted and began to more aggressively recruit OR nurses knowing it would take months to get newly hired OR nurses trained and up to speed.

The pursuit of a recruitment strategy when looming staffing issues were first identified more than 18 months ago would have gone a long way to helping avoid the need to redirect weekend births, a strategy HHS announced in May, when the hospital found itself with fewer OR nurses than required to maintain services on weekends.

More recently, HHS pursued a renovation strategy without fully vetting patient care and our outcome is further reduced service levels.

HHS administration chose to pursue a solution of moving to a single OR with the second OR being used as sterile storage to manage patient care concerns.

Initially this seemed to be a logical solution to the facility issues but key to this strategy is the hospital’s ability to ‘hand off’ emergencies that could develop during childbirth, if the single OR was unavailable, to neighbouring healthcare facilities.

Rather than iron out the details of this hand off before moving forward with renovations, the renovations began.

Now, a few days before the OB is to reopen, we have a patient care crisis on our hands.

The transfer of emergency cases that may develop mid-birth to another healthcare facility has been deemed too risky by both our neighbouring facilities as well as regulators.

A significant aspect of the HHS strategy that was never fully vetted, yet, administration chose to move forward with the renovation. An HHS ‘solution’ has created a situation where the hospital cannot address patient care concerns and an announcement was made on Friday to dramatically reduce OB services at WLMH.

To be clear, we find ourselves with the current OB service reductions because of a strategy HHS administration pursued before fully vetting the details.

I look forward to the day the shovels go in the ground and work on our new facility is underway. I am very concerned, however, that we will be not be able to rebuild OB back to the level of care and recreate the unique experience WLMH has become know for.

(Andrew Smith is the chair of WLMH Citizen’s Advisory Committee)

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