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CEO says rural Ontario is 'under siege' and pressures continue to grow
by Sandy Lindsay

July 4, 2016
www.saugeentimes.com

Health

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Lance Thurston is concerned that rural Ontario is "under siege" when it comes to things like health care, education and other areas.

Lance Thurston

President & CEO of Bruce Grey Health Services

"As a region and as an organization (Bruce Grey Health Services), the difficulty is to retain the money and services here, because it is all being pulled into the GTA," said Thurston recently at the Saugeen Memorial Foundation annual general meeting, "and as an organization, we are fighting that constantly."

Thurston went on to say that one of the messages being given to communities is that the "hospital foundations cannot do it alone and that they must be in partnership with the communities, municipalities, schoolboards, etc. to continue to rally for rural Ontario as we are under siege in many respects."

The need for fundraising is all the more important because the province does not fund equipment.  It funds operating costs to a point and, says Thurston, "... that is also shrinking as we go along so if we want to equip or re-equip our hospitals, it's the communities that must step up."

The pressure on hospital foundations just continues to grow.  "It used to be that there was an ebb and a flow during the year in the life of a foundation.  You raise some money and then kind of slow down.  Now, however, the pressure is just constant for foundations to retain a footing and they are always looking for the next fundraising opportunity.

According to Thurston, Saugeen Memorial Hospital Foundation (SMHF) does a "tremendous job" and it starts with the community.  "They are engaged, they're interested and they're passionate about their hospital and that flows up to the Foundation and staff who are committed and continually looking for opportunities to support the hospital to keep health care here instead of three hours down the highway."

Thurston maintains however, that rural Ontario is under siege and in a conflict.  "The resources are being drained away, there have been job losses, school closures, businesses leaving and hospitals under siege in terms of service delivery.  Everything is being drained into the GTA where the growth is while the government is trying to balance its books and provide services.  So, we are in quite a pickle and we are at the tail end and the tail does not wag the dog.  We have to continue to say, hey, we're here in rural Ontario - don't forget about us.  We are constantly looking at opportunities to remind policy makers and those that hand out the funding that we are here and we have services to provide."

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He added that the organization (BGHS) is doing a lot of advocacy work with the Southwest LHINs and with the Ministry in terms of funding in addition to the Ontario Hospitals Association, that is very strong.  "Even with these groups," he said, "we still have to remind them that we are here in rural Ontario because the tendency is to focus on hospitals in the large urban centres."

Thurston pointed out that BGHS is unique in Ontario in that it is much like a hub with spokes and there are advantages and disadvantages to the system and "... we have to remind the province that we are uniquely different and need to be accommodated within the funding formula."

He added that the quality of services provided is excellent although the range of those services has shrunk over time and some are simply not available.  "Where we can grow or enhance those services, we would like to but have to enhance funding to do that.  We are just trying to hang on to what we've got because there is a real risk that if you start letting things go, they will never come back."

"It's the same in the education world and other sectors.  We are all fighting the 'sucking sound' of resources being sucked out of rural Ontario into the GTA and we are fighting that all the time."

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