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Health minister slams hospital administration

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN Health and Long-Term Care Minister George Smitherman is criticizing the way Sudbury Regional Hospital is run.


Health and Long-Term Care Minister George Smitherman is criticizing the way Sudbury Regional Hospital is run.
During an interview with CBC Radio Monday, Smitherman said he was disappointed that hospital CEO Vickie Kaminski was getting paid “more and more” but the “performance of the hospital does not look to be responding.”
He said the province has added more funding and almost 40 percent more long-term care beds, but nothing seems to be “getting the job done.”

Smitherman made the comments after local physician Dr. Miguel Bonin went public with his concerns about the state of the hospital, as reported in Wednesday’s Northern Life.

The doctor spoke out about the hospital’s old, sometimes dangerous equipment, overcrowded facilities and behind-schedule capital construction project.

Smitherman also criticized Bonin, saying “I don’t know why a doctor decides they want to be a media star, but I cannot stop them from that.”

By Wednesday, Smitherman seemed to have calmed down.

“Obviously, the people in Sudbury have been expressing their disappointment with some of the circumstances related to the operation of the hospital,” he said.

“I certainly have seen other hospitals in the province of Ontario address challenges in their emergency rooms in a way that created a more satisfactory response.”

The hospital’s administration has been slow to help set up family health teams in the city, although the funding is in place, adds Smitherman. Family health teams could alleviate pressure on the hospital, he says.

The hospital could also work with other health-care organizations, and their new funding agency, the North East Local Health Integration Network, to come up with solutions, Smitherman says.

“In Sudbury, we have a wide variety of health care organizations, not just the hospital, that if they choose to work together, they can develop and unlock solutions that can be of benefit to the patients.”

Ninety-six more long-term-care beds will be built by 2010 to alleviate pressure on the hospital, he says.

“What is the option other than to build them? Nobody’s shown me capacity that we’ve failed to utilize,” says Smitherman.

“We’ve sought at Pioneer Manor to use every space that was there. We’ve built 72 interim long-term-care beds. Of course, the fire there was a bit challenging.”

Smitherman denies construction on the one-site hospital is behind schedule, although the project was originally supposed to be completed in 1999.

“I don’t think the one-site hospital is behind schedule. We are going to break ground on that (phase two) very, very soon,” he says.

Contrary to Smitherman’s comments, Bonin says he is not looking to be a media star.

“I wasn’t the one to seek out the media, the media sought me out. I’m just saying everything that all the employees and other doctors at the hospital are thinking.”

Bonin says he was somewhat surprised Smitherman was so critical of the hospital’s board and administration.

“Obviously, finger pointing in any form never leads to everything,” he says.

“All I can say right now is what we have is insufficient. Whose fault is that? That is for them to decide.”

Sudbury Regional Hospital CEO Vickie Kaminski turned down the opportunity to speak with Northern Life about Smitherman’s comments.

However, the board and administration of the hospital issued a statement about the issue Tuesday.

The statement said they hadn’t heard all of Smitherman’s comments, but wanted to meet with the cabinet minister to discuss “mutual concerns regarding the challenges faced by our regional health system.”

“It is our intention to share the outcome of this meeting with the community,” the statement reads.

Smitherman told Northern Life he would be pleased to meet with the hospital board and administration.

The hospital’s statement also expressed disappointment about “what we have heard broadcasted to date. In our discussions with Minister Smitherman, he has never expressed any concerns to the board.”

“The board continues to be committed to high quality patient care for this community and is very proud of the care that is provided by the staff and physicians at the HRSRH.”

Northern Life also requested an interview with Sudbury MPP and Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, who often attends hospital press conferences.

However, he is not available for interviews for the next week. His spokesperson, Laura Blondeau, says he wouldn’t want to comment on what Smitherman has to say about the hospital anyway.

“We just don’t want to weigh in on that. He (Bartolucci) wants to concentrate on the job he has to do, and his role, and that’s what he’s doing.”

Nickel Belt MPP Shelley Martel says Smitherman deserves most of the blame for the situation at the hospital, not the facility’s board and administration.

She is especially concerned about patients who need long-term care tying up hospital beds.
“This is not a crisis that has been made by the board or the CEO,” she says.

“On the contrary, the hospital has put in proposals to the minister on more than one occasion to get interim beds in the hospital to move patients in those beds. Those requests have been refused by the ministry of health.

“Secondly, the hospital and the board are not in a position to make sure there’s more investment in the supports in the community so that people can go there.”

Sudbury and District Medical Society president Dr. Dennis Reich says Smitherman is probably right to be critical of the hospital administration, but the province is also partly to blame.

“If you can’t give a good explanation of why things aren’t getting done the way they’re supposed to be done, then who is accountable?” says Reich.

“We’ve got the hospital saying the government is to blame, and the government saying the hospital is to blame. The public should be more and more concerned, and maybe at some point they should demand some answers.”