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By Shayla Bradley
Without a strong local health care system, Dryden can’t be a strong community. That’s the view of Wade Petranik, CEO of Dryden Regional Health Centre, who made a presentation to council to raise awareness of local issues and identify potential areas of collaboration in advocating for health care.
The local health system is a critical part of a sustainable community, Petranik said, and “It’s really a large and growing part of our local economy as well.”
However, DRHC has been facing new and increased challenges over the last several years.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of increase in demand for services over the last few years, particularly over the last two years,” Petranik shared. “They’re coming from two main pressures.”
First is an increase in alternate level of care, or ALC patients. These, Petranik explained, are usually frail seniors who do not have services available in the community and nowhere else to go but the hospital.
The second issue is a growing mental health and addictions problem in Dryden.
“Opiates we all know about, but more recently we’re seeing more and more crystal meth and people suffering from complications from using crystal meth,” he explained, noting these numbers are increasing not just in the emergency department, but for inpatient care, too.
The hospital is 90 per cent full, all of the time, as a result of growing patient numbers. There are lots of peaks, Petranik added, where DRHC is well above capacity.
“It’s not uncommon on a Monday to have well over 50 people,” he said, noting the highest peak was about 57 inpatients for a facility with 41 beds.
“That’s a huge challenge for our staff and other heathcare providers to accommodate all of those people,” Petranik said, explaining that while these fluxes used to happen sporadically during times like flu season, they are now happening more frequently.
Mental health visits to the emergency department have risen about 46 per cent over the last several years, increasing wait times for all emergency patients.
And, on top of these patient pressures, funding is not keeping up with the pace of service demands, Petranik shared. The hospital is running at an operating deficit for the second year in a row, after roughly 20 years with a balanced budget.
While the Ministry of Health provided some surge funding for hospitals that could open beds to address rising patient numbers, DRHC does not have additional physical space to open for overflow.
“It’s really in a delicate balance,” Petranik advised council. “Any impact on one part of the system has a domino effect on the rest of our services.”
Additionally, he explained, the hospital is often seen as a safety net for other areas of health and social services. When people cannot get services within the community they come to the hospital for care.
“That’s getting more and more challenging to do with these capacity issues,” Petranik said.
The solutions lie in building strong community infrastructure and more long term care beds, as well as a sense of urgency amongst the entire community and its health providers to build that capacity, he offered. Hospital services need to be stabilized during capacity building, and the hospital needs a stable operating budget and appropriate inflation increases to cover its costs. Finally, the community needs a consistent home care system, he explained.
“We have to make sure that we have a strong voice over our local health system and contribute what we think we need in order to solve those issues and problems,” Petranik said. “It’s never a one size fits all solution to health care.”
He urged mayor and council to make health care part of their advocacy agenda for the community, particularly stressing the need for a solid plan for long-term care beds within the community. It will take five years to build long-term care capacity, he explained, adding, “I’d hate to think what our hospital would look like five years from now if we don’t have that space to place our frail seniors.”
“We need to have that plan for long term care beds and it needs to be soon — very soon,” he urged. “Otherwise, we’re not going to get it done.”