Sunday, December 10, 2023

It’s not brain surgery

It was a cruel irony when one of the worst blows ever dealt to health care in the Pontiac was delivered by two professional health care workers, one a neurosurgeon turned premier and the other a radiologist turned health minister.

But that’s what happened when Quebec’s previous Liberal government removed Pontiac’s local health care decision-making capability and subsumed it within CISSSO, a centralized body based in Gatineau that makes decisions on health and social services for the entire Outaouais region.

Perhaps it was a well-intentioned effort to squeeze more out of an inadequate provincial health care budget through the application of an economies-of-scale notion of efficiency. What the government refused to recognize, despite much local protest, was that it was the very connection between decision-makers and the community they served that had, up to that point, enabled Pontiac’s health care services to be among the most efficiently-run in Quebec. Ever since, as predicted, these services have been withering away.

Here, on the frontier with Ontario, we face the challenge of losing nurses and other medical staff to the allure of $10 more an hour they can earn just across the river. No decision-makers sitting in an office in Gatineau will ever be as keenly aware of the consequences of this problem or as motivated to solve it as people living and working here in our community.

Until just a few years ago, Pontiac’s expectant mothers could expect to have their babies in the Shawville hospital. Not any longer. Now, with insufficient staff, the obstetrics department has had to close, and parents-to-be have to factor a fast trip to Renfrew, Pembroke, Hull, Gatineau or Ottawa into their birth day travel plans.

With the loss of the hospital’s microbiology lab, even cultures previously done in Shawville for diagnoses of such commonplace ailments as strep throat or urinary tract infections must now make the trek down the highway for analysis in some other lab, often stretching the wait time for treatment by several days.

As our local health services dwindle, patients understandably go elsewhere. Quebec’s costs for covering services provided by Ontario can only go up, further starving us of resources that could be put to productive use here.

Centralization is clearly not working. It is producing no economic or managerial benefits. On the contrary, it has put us into a downward spiral that we need to pull out of before it is too late.

And we’re not alone, many other jurisdictions across the province are suffering a similar fate.

As reported on our front page this week, there is a move afoot to do something about it. A group of 800 doctors from across the province, including several from the Pontiac, is trying to get the government to allow health care decisions once again to be made where they can be made best, in the communities they serve.

At the same time, the group recognizes the benefits of being part of a regional network of health care facilities within which doctors can collaborate seamlessly and patients can be moved from one facility to another to receive the best possible care, according to their needs.

There is some prospect this push might work. The CAQ government didn’t create the problem and it just might be open to letting things revert to a version of the way they were before their Liberal rivals made a mess of it.

But everyone is going to have to get behind it. Not just our elected representatives, all of us. The doctors’ group is asking that we let the government know our thoughts by whatever means we can.

Letters to CISSSO and/or the minister responsible for the Outaouais, Mathieu Lacombe, would be a good start. Tell them how the loss of local governance, and the resulting loss of local services, affect you. Share your letter with The Equity if you’d like us to publish it too.

We can only hope the powers -that-be will agree to restore local decision-making on mattters of health services. All it takes is a little common sense.

Charles Dickson


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