While attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof. Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.” To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.” Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate. “I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle? “I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding? “I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.” Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county. Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table. Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location. Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs. Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.” In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further. “It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.” That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.
By the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000. To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan. The city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth. The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development. Concurrently the city is identifying recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades. Representatives from Dillon Consulting in Kitchener met with council at Monday’s reference committee meeting with a draft copy of its fire station location study.
Four months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin. And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside. In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice. Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.” Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.
“I can guarantee there will be a hospice in Elgin county . . . during my term.” Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued that assurance last December and less than a year later, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott backed that guarantee with a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin. Friday morning (Sept. 20) Elliott, who is also the province’s health minister, made the announcement at Memory Garden in Pinafore Park and added once the facility opens, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
OPSEU has written to Health Minister Deb Matthews over the reduction in mental health beds proposed for London’s Regional Health Centre (St. Joseph’s Health Care).
The aging facility is being replaced by two public-private partnerships (P3s) in London and St. Thomas which will offer far fewer beds. The plan also calls for 50 beds to be transferred to Cambridge this fall and another 59 beds to Windsor next year. The new P3 facilities are scheduled to open in 2015 with a 156-bed London Parkwood site and an 89-bed forensic unit in St. Thomas. London and St. Thomas presently have 450 beds.
While the new London hospital will have the ability to add on 12 more beds, there are about 80 fewer beds in the scheme. The province has already reduced the number of mental health beds to below per capita levels recommended by the Health Restructuring Commission.
While the hospital has given OPSEU an outline of the bed changes, no detailed plan has yet to be released to the public.
The union is concerned that given this represents an integration decision by the South West Local Health Integration Network (SW LHIN), that families, patients, staff and other stakeholders be given an opportunity to provide input on the plan.
This also represents another region of the province where mental health beds from one community are being taken to address the needs of another. In North Bay OPSEU is fighting to retain 31 mental health beds that will transfer to Sudbury when the North East Mental Health Centre moves into its new P3 facility.
“We ask that if additional mental health beds are needed in communities such as Sudbury, Cambridge and Windsor, that new funding be granted to meet these needs,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas wrote in the letter.
The union is also calling on a moratorium on further cuts to mental health beds given most mental health centres are at or near capacity.