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LHIN 'has to go,' Hudak says

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario is supporting the Ontario Health Coalition report calling for disbandment of the Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) in Ontario which includes the Central East LHIN, the funding body for Northumberland Hills Hospital.

The report, produced by the Coalition after hearings in 12 communities with small and rural hospitals, states that there is no evidence the LHINs (created by the provincial government in 2006 to replace district health councils and operations with the health ministry) "have improved access to care in rural and northern Ontario.

"Neither have they improved service co-ordination," the report states.

"At best, the public considers (the LHINs) an expensive political buffer that lacks credibility.... It is this panel's opinion that the Local Health Inte- gration Networks should be disbanded."

PC leader Tim Hudak agrees.

"In times of urgent health care needs, we cannot afford any more of Dalton McGuinty's scandals and waste," Hudak states in a media release. "(Premier) Dalton McGuinty's LHIN model is broken and has to go."

Since 2006, the PC leaders alleges that $176-million has been diverted from front-line health care into salaries and administration costs at the LHINs.

Co-chair of the Northumberland Citizens Health Care Coalition, Peggy Smith, also agrees that the major message of the Ontario Health Coalition report is that the LHINs must go.

"The report does a bang-up job" of explaining the adverse impact of the LHIN on hospitals, Smith said.

The services hospitals provide are already in place and staffed. There is no need to take on the task of moving them into the community and "double spending," she stressed.

But LHIN spokesperson Katie Cronin-Wood disputes the Coalition report findings that the LHIN has been ineffective.

Work has already taken place similar to what the Ontario Health Coalition describes as the baseline services small hospitals should provide communities, she said in an interview Tuesday. Essential services and creation of a clinical services plan looking at five specialty areas (available on its website at www.centraleastlhin.on.ca)has been created. (See sidebar below on baseline services advocated by the Ontario Health Coalition.)

Cronin-Wood also disputed the Coalition's claim that planning for hospital services has "deteriorated and is now ad hoc, erratic and inequitable" and undertaken with a culture of "disrespect... and arrogance..." toward advocates and municipal and provincial leaders.

The clinical services plan on the Central East LHIN website fully rebuts the Coalition claim about deteriorated planning, she said, and as to failing to involve community leaders, the LHIN is: regularly in touch through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario; directly in contact with provincial members of parliament; there a speakers' program and LHIN representatives will attend municipal councils if requested, she said.

Specific to the Coalition report's focus on the NHH hospital budgetary plan endorsed by the Central East LHIN closing its outpatient rehabilitation service last month, Cronin-Wood said discussions are underway between Northumberland- Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi, the health ministry and the LHIN to provide a public service in the community.

(The NHH budgetary plan was created to meet the LHIN's directive to devise a financial plan that did not depend on any increase to last year's provincial funding and addressed its deficit/debt. As a result of that directive, the hospital board also closed the diabetes clinic at the end of the April, plans to close 26 net hospital beds in the fall if there are community resources in place, and cut the equivalent of 30 full-time hospital jobs.)

The Coalition reports that the public sees no value in the LHINs, that they lack credibility and support and are the "object of extreme public anger" but Cronin-Wood says Ontarians should do their own research into it.

"It's unfortunate people feel that way," she said, but they should look at the web or attend a LHIN meeting and they will see the system of health care is being improved.

If they call, write or e-mail, "we will respond" to this feedback, she also said.

LHIN meetings are open to the public and provide some time for informal interaction between people and the board members but delegations from the public are not part of this decision-making forum.

Contrary to the Coalition's claim that the LHINs' mandate is to "centralize services," Cronin-Wood says the mandate of the LHINs is to plan, fund and integrate.

Attempts to contact Northumberland Hills Hospital president Robert Biron for comment about the report, which includes an overview of public reaction to the budget plan for the hospital, were not responded to by press time.

vmacdonald@northumber landtoday.com