More than a promise, less than a hospital
A headline-grabbing promise in last fall’s provincial election was a commitment to not only improve healthcare services (standard in every election) but to build a brand new hospital for West Quebec -- in Gatineau. Maybe even in Aylmer. The election gave us a new government, the Coalition, which had made the new-hospital promise, but we’ve heard little on the subject since then.
The idea isn’t dead, apparently. When CAQ deputies meet in Gatineau, as they have several times, their talking-points include this new facility. But we’ve not had a firm commitment in any way – and this may be a good thing. Good, because it gives the government and our own city another opportunity to revisit this proposal.
It needs re-visiting. First, when this newspaper publishes surveys and opinions of our region’s needs, healthcare is always near the top. But any look at the details does not support the huge expense and time needed to design, build and equip a new hospital in the city. A good deal of money has already gone into updating and renovating the existing two urban hospitals, especially Hull’s. The Hull campus now functions efficiently (given the usual bumps in such a high-traffic facility). Hence, our question: does our healthcare require more bricks and mortar?
Among the surveys are calls for more specialists, more family physicians, more nurses, home-care and support staff, and a host of requests from the rural populations which Gatineau’s CISSSO is also supposed to serve. From most reports, the Wakefield hospital needs significant attention, and the sizeable population of Maniwaki has no obstetrics services at all. The Pontiac facilities (hospital and CLSCs) appear to be among the best in the province’s rural areas, but they suffer immensely from the imposed centralization of the last government which means almost all administrative decisions are ping-ponged back and forth between Gatineau and Shawville/Fort Coulonge; specialists remain unavailable; and Pontiac’s two emergency facilities are often bypassed, trucking patients off to the city, losing precious time – and making the “paper trail” (digitization seems not to have helped) of patient service a minefield of missing documents, reports, and appointments.
In none of these areas would a new building help, managed presumably by the same CISSSO crew which is still struggling after several reorganizations to provide leadership.
What would help, rather, would be exactly those services already identified by the population: more specialists (and specialist-hours), family doctors, nurses, home-care services, and medium-level managers in the rural facilities. This small list only scratches the surface, but it does indicate that the CAQ is on the right track in ranking healthcare improvement as critical for the Outaouais. Just not another flashy new building, requiring years to construct, and even more money to staff and equip.
Let’s hope the CAQ’s delay in fulfilling this promise is due to just such a reconsideration and closer study of our region’s actual needs.