A tale of two hospitals

The very fact that one hospital must be targeted for closure over another triggers animosity.

The annual meeting of the new Humber River Regional Hospital had begun quietly but within minutes, the gathering had become an illustration of the bitterness and anger that can surround the closing of a community’s hospital. “You can’t take away our hospital and jeopardize our safety,” asserted one man.

The new hospital resulted from the merger of Humber Memorial, Northwestern General and York-Finch Hospitals. Northwestern was ordered closed by the Health Services Restructuring Commission, although an appeal of the decision has been launched by a group of former members of Northwestern’s board. But the new board has been swiftly proceeding with the changes to the three hospitals, including moving services out of Northwestern.

The supporters of Northwestern General Hospital are riled — convinced they’re not being treated fairly. They argue Northwestern’s site is more suited to enlargement, has more available land for parking, has a large nursing home next door that depends on its services — and the hospital has a record of efficiency that surpasses mber’s. Fewer people would be left out of the hospital’s catchment area if Humber were to close, they maintain. Also, closing operations at the Keele Street site will trigger a $16 million environmental clean-up of the former landfill site.

But perhaps the greatest tragedy is the hostility and loss of trust between two communities. None of the current board members is from the City of York where the Northwestern site is located. And board members are affronted their motives are being viewed with suspicion. At the heart of this distrust is the fact the former President and CEO of the Humber site, Mark Rochon, is now CEO of the Commission. But the Humber River Regional Hospital board Chairman, Bill Livingston, doesn’t agree, noting that on the three occasions the board met with the Restructuring Commission, Mr. Rochon did not offer comments.

Liberal health critic Gerard Kennedy asked Mr. Rochon if he had excluded himself from the Commission’s deliberations to avoid the charge of conflicting interests. “He said ‘No.’ He saw no need,” says Kennedy. So the mistrust lingers.

At the annual meeting in June, MPPs Mike Colle and Gerard Kennedy asked the board for a public meeting to clear the air. But the final report of the Restructuring Commission was scheduled for release July 23rd. “We feel shut out,” protested Colle. “Everything is being done behind closed doors.”

And this lack of communication, at the local level and at the Commission’s level, is destructive.

“The community will have a bad taste forever,” commented one doctor sadly as the meeting ended.

“The physicians at Northwestern,” says Kennedy, “fundamentally believe this is wrong. They believe the site selection is wrong. But they also believe you can’t take away that many beds and serve people and keep them healthy. “What the government and the board are dependent on,” he charges, “is a certain level of apathy and discouragement. . . people have to get involved.”