Isabelle Nethercott knows a thing or two about the city’s transit system. She probably knows more about the pitfalls and shortcomings of the bus operation than anyone at city hall. And that includes mayor and council. For years, Isabelle has relied on the creaky buses to get her to and from work. And, to put it mildly, she is not impressed with the much-ballyhooed roll-out of Railway City Transit. Most days she is the only rider on the bus, making social distancing effortless. She forwarded a copy to this corner of a very lengthy letter addressed to Justin Lawrence, the city’s director of engineering. It is as comprehensive as many of the big-buck consulting reports that cross the desk of city hall staff. The director and council would be wise to heed and act upon many of her observations. In short, any city that penalizes users by downgrading the service to a one-hour headway on almost all of its routes has no right to call itself progressive.
The space is available and waiting, staff are trained and ready to go and the service could be up and running six months after approval. The choke point in this essential service for St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is provincial Ministry of Health approval. At Monday’s (Feb. 8) meeting, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron made a compelling presentation to council on the need to equip the facility with an MRI scanner. Biron referred to it as “A basic medical technology for any community hospital.” He added, “We are one of the few medium-sized hospitals in the province that does not provide the service.” Biron continued, “We are one of the few counties in the province that does not have access to the service.” Very curious indeed in that STEGH has been a designated stroke centre since 2016 but does not have a scanner that is required for treating stroke and is integral in the management of many colorectal and breast cancer cases. Biron went on to note, “an MRI scanner is essential in the diagnosis and management of orthopedic conditions.”
With COVID-19 testing centres in London overwhelmed this week as a result of the Western University outbreak and the province aiming to up the testing across the province to 50,000 per day in short order, what is the status of the assessment centre at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital?
President and CEO Robert Biron says there has been an uptick in the number of daily tests however there is spare capacity at the centre.
Speaking with Biron this week he confirmed, “Yes, we are seeing an influx from a number of sources.
Earlier this spring, we referred to them as the other victims of the coronavirus. Those individuals whose lives had been put on hold as their elective surgeries and procedures were postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that time, the province released details of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals as they prepared to tackle the backlog of surgeries.
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron said there was a backlog of well over 1,000 surgeries staff would have to deal with.
Moving forward, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal at the end of August suggested clearing the backlog across the province could take 84 weeks.
They are not included in the daily tally issued by health units across the province – including Southwestern Public Health in this area – and yet these individuals have been victimized and their lives put on hold by the coronavirus. And last week’s release of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals is a welcome ray of hope for those whose elective surgeries and procedures also fell victim to COVID-19. Although it may still be several weeks before ramping up the numbers, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron says the preparatory work is underway. Speaking with him yesterday (Friday), Biron advised the immediate task is to work with other hospitals in the region to create a joint plan so that all hospitals are working “in a lockstep approach.” He adds, “There is a lot of complexity involved in that because there is a pandemic we have to account for.
Let’s pray it never reaches this stage – and to date, there is no indication St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is about to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – however, the president of OPSEU is urging the province “to look for creative ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus.” Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas is urging the Doug Ford government to consider opening portions of previously shuttered regional mental health centres including the facility south of St. Thomas and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls to ease a potential capacity crisis in the healthcare system. In a media release issued last month, Thomas noted, “They can be used for currently hospitalized alternative care patients or as dedicated COVID-19 centres to relieve pressure on our hospitals. Let’s be proactive. Now is the time for action.”
My, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves. To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week. He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.” To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis. “We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”
Hopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.
More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining. That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year. With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget. Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year. That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.