Alberta Health Services officials might have approached all wrong their decision to shut down long-term care beds at the Sundre hospital, but they at least got one thing right, a local doctor said last week.
The facility does not require 15 long-term care beds. But that being said, usage of the service clearly demonstrates the need for at least a few of them, said Dr. Rob Warren, who sits on the Sundre Hospital Futures Committee.
He spoke during a public meeting held last Thursday night at the Sundre Community Centre to inform the community about a proposed plan to save five long-term care beds, convert four to restorative care, three to cater to other community needs, while closing the last three to accommodate additional space needed for lab services to meet national accreditation standards.
While Warren said the actual number of required long-term care beds fluctuates depending on the need at any given point in time, he added having four or five is better than having none and losing the service altogether.
The meeting, organized by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon and his staff, was well attended by about 150 people, including local officials and representatives of Friends of Medicare as well as the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. However, a number of chairs that had been brought out, mainly towards the back of the room, remained empty.
The MLA told those who came out that reaching this point had only been made possible through invaluable support from the community. With a proposal to keep at least some long-term care beds at the hospital, the next step was to seek public input, he said.
Gerald Ingeveld, a community member on the hospital futures committee, outlined short-, mid- and long-term goals for the hospital. Looking years ahead, he said a new facility would be needed. But to get there, efforts would in the mid-term be required to clearly demonstrate the need for a new facility so a strong case can be made to government officials for a new hospital.
In the short-term, however, the priority is to stop the complete closure of the hospital's long-term care beds, he said.
Warren then got into more detail about what the proposed plan to keep long-term care beds in Sundre looked like.
“We came up with a plan that is not perfect, I'll be the first to admit it,” he said.
“But it is workable. And it accomplishes a number of things that we heard were important to the community. It does leave long-term care in our community, and we've got a commitment that five of those beds will be kept open for long-term care.”
Not all of the patients in the 15 long-term care beds necessarily need such a high level of hospital-based care, he said.
“They were there because that's the only place in our community that they could go, and we bent the rules a little bit to make sure that they could stay here.”
The new Mountain View Seniors' Housing facility will provide a crucial service to increase the capacity to allow people who don't need a hospital level of care, he said.
“The majority of the 15 people in our hospital are probably going to be better served at the new facility.”
But the shock came when AHS announced all the long-term care beds at the hospital would be closed, he said.
“When we looked at the numbers, the reality that we came to was that Alberta Health Services was right about one thing. We probably don't need 15 long-term care beds at that hospital. But we need more than zero,” he said.
“The number that we came up with based on the number of people that have been evaluated today was about four or five. If we have four or five beds, we can probably meet the needs of this community until we get a new hospital.”
He also talked about the four proposed restorative care beds, which are a relatively new model of care that involves helping a patient sufficiently recover so he or she may return to their previous level of care, whether that is at home or in a lodge, he said, adding it would be a new service for the community.
“We leapt at the chance to say, ‘here's a way to save more beds and more jobs at the hospital and provide added service.'”
There are many potential ideas for what the other three beds could be used for, he said.
“We'd like to hear from the community about what those ideas might be. We'd like to hear from the community about whether they think the five long-term care beds is a good idea. We think they are, and we think that this is a way to keep the hospital beds open and save jobs,” he said.
“But it's not just up to us. If there are ideas about how those community beds might be used, we'd like to hear them.”
Keeping the 12 beds open will cost money the zone's administrators don't currently have in their budget, but he said the minister has pledged to Nixon funding will be made available if the community supports the proposal.
Nixon added jobs were a concern from the beginning, and said the minister's belief based on discussions she's had with her team that if implemented, the proposed plan would retain all the jobs in the community.
“How exactly that works is hard to describe right now,” he said, adding the intent is to keep everyone working while not losing any health-care services.
There was some vocal support for the plan as well as rounds of applause for the hospital futures committee's efforts in getting so far in such a relatively short period of time. Some suggestions for the three community beds included palliative, acute, maternal and psychological care.
Sundre resident and town councillor Paul Isaac said he supported the plan and wanted to know where to sign his approval, but added efforts could not stop there.
Mayor Terry Leslie said he could not be more proud of the community, and praised the committee's efforts, as well as Nixon's. He also recognized that the health minister had met twice in about week to discuss the issue, which she did not have to do.
“I trust that minister more than I trust AHS,” he said.
“We will be a better community because of all the work that our hospital futures committee has done.”
The Round Up also contacted the health minister's office for comment.
“In April, I met with members of the Sundre Hospital Futures Committee, which includes the mayor and local health leaders, and they showed me their proposal,” said Hoffman by email.
“I think it has some good elements and I encouraged them to consult with the broader community. Fundamentally, I want a solution that the community can get behind, and I think this moves us in that direction. We have some more work to do on the details, and I want to be clear — this is not a take it or leave it situation. The people of Sundre can be confident I am committed to working with them to keep the hospital open and providing patients with the right level of care.”