The latest cuts at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, which will see the lights turned out at the sleep clinic on Oct. 3, is nothing short of a bad dream for the former director of the lab.
Calling the decision to pull the plug on a clinic that saw 940 patients last year “misguided”, Dr. Charles George has sent an open letter to all members of the St. Thomas Elgin Medical Association urging them to make their concerns known.
A copy of Dr. George’s letter was sent our way anonymously in a plain, white envelope.
He notes the sleep clinic opened in the mid-1990s under the direction of Dr. Linda O’Fiara. When she departed for Montreal, Dr. George and Dr. Kathy Ferguson stepped in because, “at the time the clinic was generating revenue for the hospital and the patient volume was increasing.”Speaking with Dr. George on Thursday he explained, “I bailed the clinic out, ostensibly on a short-term basis which became a very long-term basis. I was able to keep the clinic going, see the patients and report the studies. And presumably there were no issues. Nobody said, ‘You’re losing money, Dr. George.’”
Closure of the clinic and loss of 4.45 full-time equivalent positions (there’s that phantom FTE terminology the hospital has chosen to hide behind) comes as STEGH attempts to bridge a $1 million gap in its 2016-17 budget.
And the manner in which this was decided is typical of hospital administrations, points out Dr. George.
“They saw a deficit number, decided to pull the plug without — as near as I can tell — any serious discussion about is there a way to fix this and make it revenue neutral or profitable. It’s just the manner in which this whole thing has gone. Which I found very disturbing and that’s why I wrote the letter to my colleagues. The idea behind that was for them to rally support.”
In the letter, Dr. George points to 2014, “when the hospital was lucky enough to get a highly trained and fully qualified respirologist and sleep physician in Dr. George Yuan. This finally provided the hospital with an on-site physician who could do it all: run the lab, see the increasing number of patients and provide the necessary respirology expertise for patients, including those with both sleep apnea and obesity-hypo ventilation syndrome.”
Two years later and Dr. Yuan is a casualty of the clinic closure.
“Imagine my shock when I learned that, having waited a very long time to acquire such a valuable resource, the hospital was effectively forcing him out,” writes Dr. George.
“With the closing of the sleep lab, he is effectively forced out of STEGH. This decision makes absolutely no sense. Why would the hospital finally get a needed physician only to force him out?”
It’s typical of hospital administrations,” advises Dr. George.
“They make decisions in the absence of clinical input. It drives us crazy. You have to have a discussion about what is important for patients. Let’s explore the avenues and the options to try and fix the problem. The whole thing was just very disappointing.”
Dr. George takes it one step further.
“I think he (Dr. Yuan) got the short end of the stick. It almost seemed like they were waiting for the old fellow to go so they could run roughshod over the new junior guy.”
As for the assertion of Mary Stewart, vice-president at STEGH, who told the Times-Journal patients will be able to access services at clinics around the region, including ones in London, Paris, Sarnia, Kitchener and Windsor, Dr. George has a two-word answer.
He continues, “I can tell you this won’t easily happen. We are already dealing with more than 330 referrals per month at LHSC lab/clinic where I am the medical director and those from your referral base will only add to the cue.”
We’ll continue to follow this closure but, for now, we’ll leave the last word to Dr. George.
“If STEGH purports to espouse patient-centred care, then this is not an example of it.”
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“To offer a service and develop it over a number of years and then suddenly pull the plug on it is misguided.”
Dr. Charles George, former medical director of the sleep clinic at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital
City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to email@example.com.Follow @ianscityscope