In January 2022, a group of local citizens from Chesley and Walkerton, shared a common concern about limitations on the consistent availability of emergency services within their communities. Hospitals in these two municipalities are part of SBGHC, a health care organization serving four rural communities in southern Grey and Bruce Counties, including Chesley and Walkerton.
Of particular concern at the time was the closure of the Walkerton emergency department and the Chesley inpatient unit the previous month and the ongoing closure of the Chesley emergency department. They formed a group which they called the Friends of the Walkerton and Chesley Hospitals.
They set up a Facebook page pledging to “work towards the reopening of the Emergency Room at the Walkerton Hospital.” They agreed to take a constructive approach, not so much to assign blame or “vilify others” but to seek positive solutions to these ongoing problems. They did extensive research and made contacts in the affected communities, interviewing medical personnel, community leaders and local politicians. Their work is extensively documented on their website, and it is an invaluable source of information. A search of the documents on their site is an eye-opener.
As they investigated the situation it became clear that while a province-wide shortage of nurses is a definite factor here, the situation at SBGHC has unique characteristics that require consideration. A letter written by former board member Nathan Rhody notes temporary closures in other jurisdictions but said at the time of writing that the SBGHC had “now temporarily closed two of their four (or 50%) of their emergency departments” and that there did not appear to be any other hospital corporation in Ontario with such a proportion of ER closures. An interesting graphic succinctly summarizes this conclusion. He also noted that Grey Bruce Health Services has six hospitals in this area, all of which were able to offer their resident communities a full slate of services on a 24 hour basis. He queries, “What’s the problem at SBGHC?”
In April 2022, frustrated with the lack of progress, the group addressed their continuing concern with the Mayors and Councils of Brockton and Arran Elderslie. The situation continued to deteriorate. In a memo dated April 18, 2022, they raised questions about operational deficiencies at the SBGHC board level and requested that the Health Minister appoint a Provincial Supervisor to oversee the functioning of the SBGHC board. Nothing happened.
By October the situation was such that the group send a letter to the Municipalities involved with the SBGHC expressing “grave concerns about the ongoing operations and continued viability of our local hospital corporation”. Amid deteriorating conditions within the SBGHC, they noted that their previously expressed concerns had not been addressed. They asked that Municipal Councils support their proposal to make changes in the SBGHC board to make it “more representative of the population served” and to have members appointed by the affected municipal councils. The group sees this as a practical solution to the problems our local hospitals have faced.
The Friends of the Walkerton and Chesley Hospitals appeared before Arran-Elderslie council in October 2022 and presented their concerns and recommendations. Council passed a motion to support the letter in principle and directed staff to prepare a letter to the Minister of Health.
At the present time the Walkerton ER has re-opened but the Chesley ER is working on reduced service, business hours only on weekdays.
The members of these two communities owe a debt of gratitude to the Friends of the Walkerton and Chesley Hospitals. They have diligently pursued a brighter horizon for our hospitals and continue to advocate for improvement in the management issues that have contributed to the present situation.