The local Save Our Services (SOS) group is intent on organizing a town hall meeting to facilitate questions and answers between the community and invited members of the hospital board.
Perth town Coun. Jim Graff attended the SOS meeting at the Smiths Falls branch of the Royal Canadian Legion on Monday, Feb. 4. He promised to put forward a motion at the Perth committee-of-the-whole meeting on Feb. 5 to ask that a town hall meeting be held under the auspices of town council regarding the financial difficulties at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital.
“The people at the hospital board are not our enemies; they are our allies,” said Matthew Behrens, chair of the family council at Lanark Lodge in Perth. “(But) their hands are tied. They are doing what they have to do. Queen’s Park is making the decisions. They are the reason.”
Graff was in attendance at the meeting, made up of concerned citizens, as an observer, not representing council. He said he would put forward his motion so that concerned citizens could have “a format for you guys to come and have someone pose your questions to, someone responsible… because council cannot answer the questions.”
Graff recommended someone designated from the hospital board or Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) be on hand to answer the questions.
Graff added that, from his point of view, “we have one (Perth) councillor on the hospital board. That’s the sole source of information,” they have.
John Jackson, president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) local 2119, who chaired the meeting, brought the assembled at the Legion’s Centennial Room up to date on the situation at the hospital regarding staff re-allocations.
“We have a collective agreement,” Jackson said of his union and OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union). “You get together with the hospital when there is a lay-off. You negotiate with the hospital ways to save those jobs… We have saved some jobs.”
Some of the jobs saw full-time staff reallocated to vacant full-time roles, as was also done with some part-time staff, so staff could keep their benefits and seniority, but not necessarily at the same level of pay.
Jackson also added that he truly felt for his fellow hospital employees at the Ottawa Hospital, where it was recently announced that 294 jobs were on the chopping block.
“How do you cut 294 jobs and improve services?” Jackson asked. “That’s not improving patient care.”
The group also decided that it wishes to expand its campaign beyond the immediate Smiths Falls/Perth area. It would approach township councils in Tay Valley, for example, and maybe hold public meetings in the Leeds-Grenville riding, in towns like Portland and Elgin, as well as reaching out to concerned church groups.
“I know that the service clubs have donated a lot of money to the hospital,” said Graff. “Politicians react to numbers.”
Graff suggested that the Perth-based chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women are “good folks and they don’t take no for an answer,” adding they might be approached.
Behrens suggested approaching the two area Liberal riding associations, “because right now it is a Liberal government,” but also talking to the New Democratic and Progressive Conservative riding associations if there is a change in government.
The group also launched a new email address for the public, at email@example.com.
The group also looked at how the protest in front of Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier’s Perth constituency office went on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
“Randy wasn’t there to listen,” said Jackson.
Behrens also urged caution in choice of language in future engagements with politicians.
“What often appears in a fractious debate is that our opponents can drag us into the dirt by taking us to task for the language we use,” said Behrens. “We will refrain from tactics that will dehumanize our opponents… Coming out of the Hillier protest, there were a few moments when the nature of that dialogue bordered on the personal. We are very (upset) about what is going on, (but) I don’t want to be associated with a group that behaves that way.”
In an interview with this newspaper before the meeting, Jackson replied to comments earlier in the day from Linda Bisonette, the president and chief administrative officer of the hospital, about information being put forward by the opponents of the cuts.
While Jackson agreed that the schools had taken over responsibility for the sexual assault educator position, he countered that in the sexual assault unit at the hospital, “there was a cut there beforehand, a 0.6 full-time employee.”
Jackson also clarified that the loss of a full-time overnight nurse at the Perth campus of the hospital was in the medical/surgery department, not the emergency room.