MIDLAND — Babies will continue to be born at Georgian Bay General Hospital.
The hospital board voted Sept. 29 to keep its obstetrical unit open. GBGH will continue to accommodate low-risk births, but will enter into a partnership with Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) for higher-risk deliveries.
“There is a strong consensus we have the energy and commitment to create a new and different program,” said Dr. Keith Rose, a retired physician leader who has been advising the hospital. “But the unit needs to change and be very different.”
While the specifics of the agreement have yet to be worked out, they could include a shared leadership model, more formal collaboration with OSMH and increased educational opportunities.
Rose said the hospital will likely be able to accommodate 100 births per year.
The decision was made in response to a recommendation to close down the birthing unit as part of an operational review of the hospital by the consulting firm Geyer and Associates. That recommendation inflamed passions across the community, which prompted the hospital board to set up an advisory committee to look into the obstetrical unit.
Hospital CEO Karen McGrath said conversations with OSMH are in their “very beginning stages.”
“It’s going to take time to develop this partnership,” she said. “We’re treading new ground here.”
But board chair Ralph Befort said there is no need for the hospital board “to sit on their hands” and wait for a more formalized agreement to be signed.
“There are things that can be done now,” he said.
Rose said the working group received support for its plan from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Simcoe-Muskoka Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to make the partnership with Orillia work.
“We want to expand and create a regional program,” he said. “Some things are better done elsewhere, and some things are more appropriate being done here.”
Board member Rick Philbin said it needs to be emphasized the birthing unit will eventually look “very different” than it does today.
“There’s a solid foundation to keep the unit,” he said. “But let’s not get up people’s expectations that it’s now been completely fixed.”
Dr. Martin McNamara, former GBGH chief of staff, said the process has resulted in a rift between staff and administration.
“It also eroded some of the community’s faith in the hospital,” he said. “Hopefully this will go a long way to reinvigorate those relationships.”
Although the birthing unit will continue to operate as usual as the partnership with Orillia is developed, McGrath noted there are still significant challenges to be faced. For example, there is only one surgeon on call for obstetrical procedures at GBGH, which can lead to unit closures if the doctor is unavailable.
The Geyer report also made recommendations to reduce the number of intensive-care beds at the hospital and run the operating room on a three-day-a-week schedule. Separate working groups were set up to analyze these recommendations, and the board is expected to take up these issues at its October meeting.
The recommendations in the Geyer report that deal with matters such as appropriate behaviour and education opportunities have been dealt with in a work plan made available to the public through the hospital’s website.
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