Our rural Quebec hospital: death by a thousand cuts?

Posted 11.30.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | I was surprised to receive a personal letter at the Journal office last week. Not the usual letter to the editor, but from a respected Pontiac person appealing that we all defend our community hospital now in crisis. She cited the near-continual breakdown in obstetrics services this autumn.

just as we today watch several once-thriving Pontiac communities waste away, imagine what will happen to Shawville and the whole MRC if our once-thriving hospital shuts down, one service cut after the next. Imagine our working population or our retirees and seniors, who contribute so much to our community, losing access to a nearby hospital.

For those of us who have spent the best part of our lives in the Pontiac, the single institution which represents our community is the modern hospital in Shawville. Up until the last five years or so, Pontiac's hospital was ranked as one of the best-run, most-successful of all Quebec's rural hospitals. We have supported and fund-raised it -- and we feel especially fortunate to have it serving us, when we hear horror stories from nearby city hospitals.

For years, the Pontiac Community Hospital has ranked at the very top -- while nearby facilities in Gatineau and Hull ranked very close to, or at, the bottom. Two opposite worlds of management, cooperation, and outcomes -- 90 km apart.

Pontiac has consistently felt that the interests of our hospital have been well-served by modern Liberal governments and our Liberal MNAs. In fact, Mme L'Ecuyer united management and the political -- after her exceptional record managing the hospital she crossed the divide and sat as our MNA. However, since then, Liberal governments have endorsed austerity measures which which led to this and one big management mistake.

The last Liberal government, headed by two physicians (specialists), decided to centralize health-system management to save money. This reversed the decentralization of rural, community management which had given Pontiac its great advantage. The government put our high-scoring hospital under a management team which had already proven it could not manage what it then had, Gatineau and Hull's facilities. Our MNA Andre Fortin was in government then, knew Gatineau's health-management reputation, knew the Pontiac's excellent accomplishments, and yet had no influence in his government's destructive decision.

Today, CISSSO's big-city managers cannot keep the Pontiac Hospital operating at its capacity. It is strange that MNA Fortin believes the CAQ government can solve these problems merely by signing a contract with medical specialists.

Why didn't his government sign it? Could it be that the specialists, already among the best-paid in Canada, are the resistance? Could it be that years of chronic under-funding of nurses and other staffers has to be not just acknowledged but rectified -- and repatriated? And how about the CAQ focusing here -- where lives are at risk, births threatened, and life's veterans left to their own -- rather than its divisive and distracting Laws 21 and 12?

The Liberal Party, led by Dr. Couillard, did achieve its surplus, a good one. But what did the surplus cost? What accomplishment is it to hobble essential services so as to squeeze out a surplus?

Although Mr. Fortin is not in government, he is still our representative, and most Pontiac residents want the hospital at the top of his agenda. Not a question in the National Assembly, we insist on a plan, a resolution. We want our very capable deputy to sit down with the health authorities and map out the solution.

Let's use some of the surplus to redress planning errors, loss of nurses, general service constrictions. Quebec City has now admitted that the Outaouais has been under-funded for years. Mr. Fortin can use this as the government's agreement to proceed.

Nobody wants their health to be a political issue, but the infamous and informal Pontiac Agreement -- (whereby we vote Liberal, and the Liberals protect and assist the Pontiac) -- means that our hospital is one of the lynchpins of Pontiac's historical support for the Liberal Party of Quebec. This is Pontiac's future, our future.


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles 11.30.19