Councillors defer funding request to budget proceedings
The University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF) asked Lennox and Addington County councillors, Wednesday, to commit to giving $328,000 per year to an ongoing capital campaign toward the redevelopment of the region’s acute care hospitals.
Ultimately, councillors received the request and deferred it to budget proceedings.
UHKF president and chief executive officer Denise Cumming told councillors she recognized the ask represents a “significant increase” over the municipality’s generous and recently concluded $1-million contribution over 10 years, but explained a different methodology is being used this time around.
“I expect when you opened your package and saw that number, you might have gasped,” Cumming said, before explaining the UHKF is responding to a request the City of Kingston made.
“We got their commitment and divided it by the number of patient visits they had and came up with a multiplier,” she said. “We made a commitment to the councillors and the taxpayers that we’d go to each of the regional governments and ask them to give a proportional amount based on their patient visits in that same year.”
Cumming also noted that while Lennox and Addington County General Hospital is a valuable facility for local taxpayers, it cannot handle all residents’ health-care needs on its own.
“We know you have a wonderful hospital in your own community delivering a very important part of the spectrum of care that this community needs, but when residents need specialized care, they come to Kingston,” she said.
Indeed, in the presentation Cumming and past L&A warden Ian Wilson deliver to support the “Extraordinary People. Innovative Health Care.” campaign, the numbers support that.
From 2006 to 2016 Kingston hospitals saw a 90-per-cent increase in visits from Lennox and Addington patients with the annual number climbing to 69, 232 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. The numbers are expected to rise alongside the overall number of patients served at Kingston General Hospital (KGH), Hotel Dieu, and Providence Care.
During the presentation, Cumming spoke about an ambitious redevelopment plan that could see $570 million spent in construction at KGH, $20 million in construction at Hotel Dieu, and regular equipment updates at Providence Care. The goal is to have $145 million committed locally to encourage the province to move forward with over $500 million in investments by 2026.
Among the highlights of the campaign are improvements to the operating room, emergency department, clinical labs, and obstetrics and neonatal areas at KGH.
Last year, 2,844 L&A residents had surgeries in Kingston. Cumming said with renovations KGH could offer more minimally invasive surgeries which would result in shorter surgery and recovery times, lower infection rates and better care outcomes. Right now, however, the operating rooms don’t have the proper ceiling height to accommodate the equipment needed to make the improvements.
Changes in health policy in the mid-2000s have put pressure on an emergency department that had 5,175 visits from L&A patients last year and is expected to see a 21-per-cent increase in use over the next 10 years.
“All acute care emergency care was handled solely at KGH, overflow patients were shifted to an urgent care centre at Hotel Dieu, The facilities were not designed for that split of acuity of care,” Cumming said. “The volume of patients coming to KGH now is consistently very highly acute. People are very ill or very seriously injured.”
The emergency department there was designed to deal with a broader range of visitors.
Cumming said it could be reconstructed to include more beds, more space around those beds, better infection control and line of sight.
The restructuring of emergency could also improve the release of ambulances, an issue county councillors grapple with. According to Cumming, the reconfiguration of emergency and operating rooms would result in four buildings in the health sciences complex at KGH being removed and a new tower being built in their place. Instead of accessing emergency up a ramp off King Street, ambulances would be able to take advantage of a drive-through drop off that moves right through the hospital. It could improve off-load times.
Some 319 L&A babies were born at KGH in 2015-2016. Improvements to the labour and delivery unit will offer more private rooms and support family-centred delivery. It will also move the unit closer to the lone neonatal care unit from Toronto to Ottawa. That unit, too, will be changed to offer private rooms and a higher number of bassinets.
Lastly, demand for clinical lab tests have risen by 25 per cent in the past 10 years to the point where technicians in the hospital do eight million tests each year ordered in Kingston and elsewhere within the South East Local Health Integration Network. Proposed redevelopment would offer 54 per cent more space and improve electrical supports and ventilation systems.
Work at Hotel Dieu could include updated operating suites, a relocated pharmacy and ENT clinic, consolidated clinics in cardiology and endoscopy, and improved diagnostic imaging.
Beyond the improved provision of services in those areas, Wilson also reminded councillors the hospitals are a major economic driver for the county worthy of support.
“There are 701 Lennox and Addington County residents working in Kingston hospitals. We’re a big employer,” he said. “That has an economic impact on the community of $47 million.”
Warden Bill Lowry called the increase in use by L&A residents “mind boggling” and later added that anyone who has had exposure to the cancer clinic, operating rooms, or other acute services provided in Kingston can appreciate the value the hospitals offer. He also noted that having that level of health care close by is attractive to people looking to move to the community.
Some councillors had questions. Gord Schermerhorn questioned the length of the $328,000-a-year commitment. He was told that municipalities can decide for themselves. Kingston chose five years, while others have preferred to lock in for a decade. Cumming said whatever the length, the UHKF will likely be back asking when the duration expires.
John Wise was concerned L&A ratepayers could be on the hook for more than their share.
“Kingstonians use these hospitals for the type of special care that people from outside Kingston do, as well as the provision of routine care. In this area, we have our own hospital that we use for routine care,” he said. “Not to, sort of, throw cold water on anything, but I’d suggest that residents of our area are having to sort of pay twice to support capital improvements in both hospitals.”
Cumming said with the formula based on patient visits, it aims to be equitable for all.