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.