Our Birth | 1950's | 1960's | 1970's | 1980's | 1990's | 2000's | Our Future
Organized medical care in Leamington dates back to 1910, when nurse Maude Tisdale, along with her mother, opened a small nursing home on Oak Street East. In 1916, she moved to Erie Street South to operate Tisdale Hospital, a two-storey facility with the operating room located in a bedroom on the second floor. After surgery, doctors carried their patients down the stairs to the main-floor recovery room. The hospital closed in 1930 when Miss Tisdale died.
In 1920, nurse Ada McQueen opened the Cottage Hospital next door to Tisdale’s facility. Three years later she moved to a house on what would later become Wilkinson Drive. The Cottage Hospital served until 1933, when two nurses from Strathroy opened Hopewell Hospital. Under the direction of Mary Dinning, Hopewell offered four private rooms and one ward in a large frame house at 37 Russell Street. Hopewell eventually relocated to Russell House, a former hotel on the same street, and Dinning expanded her hospital to 22 beds.
Over the next decade, Hopewell treated so many patients that by 1943 it was bursting at the seams. Faced with increasing costs and a severe shortage of nurses, Dinning decided to close Hopewell’s doors and accepted a supervisory position in Strathroy. Devastated by the news, both the Rotary and Lions Clubs of Leamington stepped in to prevent the area from losing its only local medical facility. On July 7, members of the Leamington Lions Club voted to conduct a campaign with hopes of building a new hospital that would meet the needs of a growing population. A provisional board of directors was appointed with Chairman Lloyd Bowman leading the early fund raising campaign and preliminary planning for the new 50-bed hospital. On July 12, the Leamington Rotary Club voted to rent the facility from Dinning, and took over operations of the hospital for what they assumed would be a temporary period. The Rotary held several fundraising campaigns to assist with operational costs, and recruited many of their members’ wives to fill voids left by a depleted staff. On July 31, they held one of the community’s most successful tag days of their time, raising $900 towards the effort.
In September of 1943, the new hospital Board received its charter, and a Hospital Week Campaign was officially launched on October 4, grossing more than $75,000 in the first three weeks. In January of 1944, despite the fact that Hopewell was running an operating deficit of $2,400, the Rotary voted to assume ownership of the hospital and its medical equipment. A committee lead by W.T. Stone helped set a goal of raising $3,500 - a figure they eventually surpassed allowing them to operate without a deficit by the end of 1947. Simultaneously an Auxiliary formed under the direction of Mrs. Jack Eltherington. With assistance from the Rotary Anns and Ladies of the Eastern Star, they continued to provide volunteer services and fundraising assistance for Hopewell.
The six-month stop gap turned into a seven-and-a-half year endeavour, as raising money for the new hospital was not an easy task. Not only had the war effort drained community resources, the new hospital fundraising committee was competing with the Victory Loan Campaign. It was through sheer persistence that $90,000 was raised during the early part of 1944. It was when contributions flattened, that the committee decided it was time the taxpayers of Leamington and Mersea Township were given the opportunity to show their collective support. Through a majority vote, residents agreed to support $75,000 worth of tax-based contributions, helping meet the Board’s initial goal of raising $150,000 by the end of the year. When a five-acre piece of property south of Talbot Street West was purchased from G.A. Brown in April of 1945, the dream of building a new hospital seemed closer to reality.
The following January, preliminary calculations determined the hospital would cost upwards of $290,000 - almost twice as much as originally estimated. Even so, the Board commissioned architect H.J. Smith of Toronto to draw up plans, and called tenders in December of 1946. To their further dismay, the lowest bid came in at $449,795. Lloyd Bowman vowed to keep the dream alive, and continued to lead his committee with vigor until 1947 when Dr. E.K. Lyon took the helm. A prominent local physician and surgeon, Dr. Lyon was a wise choice for chairmanship as the community trusted his leadership and respected his authority without question. Dr. Lyon was a pioneer in group practice and President of the Essex County Medical Society in 1946. He subsequently became the President of the Ontario Medical Association in 1956, and President of the Canadian Medical Association in 1959, serving as deputy to Prince Philip, Honorary President of the British Medical Association.
Further appeals added more than $250,000 from Leamington and Mersea Township taxpayers with the remaining funds granted by the various levels of government. Windsor contracting company Dinsmore-Mclntyre was hired in January of 1948 and turned the first patch of sod on March 4 of the same year.
Two years later, on March 28, under the leadership of Mrs. Edith Atkin, the first Ladies Aid meeting was held to recruit women from the vicinity to carry out similar services as were provided at Hopewell. The guest speaker, Mrs. Herman Savage of Windsor, explained the role of a hospital Auxiliary and presented a model of the kind of member who would provide “unselfish service” - the term that would be adopted as their motto. The original Auxiliary primarily consisted of prominent women from the community. The wives of doctors, business owners and board members opened their homes and gardens for fundraising teas, and generated a great deal of support largely because of their status. However, it was not all socializing. Among other things, the Auxilians’ early duties included conducting various fundraising campaigns, staffing a TB chest clinic, canning fruits and vegetables for the patients, and making and repairing all hospital linen.
Finally, on April 1, 1950, the Leamington District Memorial Hospital was completed at a cost of $482,968, allowing the Rotary Hopewell Hospital to close and donate its equipment and supplies to the new facility. It was considered a remarkable feat that the Board was able to raise enough money to build the hospital and open its doors free of debt. One of the original and very active Auxiliary members, Lucile Miner of Kingsville, called Leamington District Memorial Hospital a “tribute to the fine spirit and co-operative effort of the people of the district it served.”
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In its infancy, the hospital experienced a period of adjustment as staff grew accustomed to their new surroundings, and the community got used to having such a modern medical facility at their disposal. During the first 18 months of operation, its beds were only half occupied and it faced a deficit of more than $25,000. Continued public support through subscription, however, helped offset the losses, and municipal grants helped clear debts.
By the end of the first summer, the Women’s Auxiliary had raised the community’s awareness as well as over $1,000 by staging a tag day and garden tea at the home of the Board Chairman’s wife, Mrs. H.M. Bradley. Early Auxiliary purchases included tables and lamps, fire extinguishers and a $250 donation to help beautify the hospital grounds. In April of 1951, they provided the hospital with a $700 oxygen tent to ensure one was always available for emergency use. In 1952, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Horace Brown saluted the fine work of the 164 members of the Women’s Auxiliary, on his coast-to-coast broadcast of Bod’s Scrapbook. He hailed them “the homemakers of the day.”
January 1 to July 31, 1952 the most successful period the hospital had experienced since opening its doors. For the first time, the hospital ended the year with a small surplus. Officials of the day believed it was due to “increased occupancy and increased interest of the public in the work of the hospital.” In order to continue to educate the community about the services they provided, the hospital staged an open house in May 1953 during National Hospital Week. Over 450 visitors witnessed first hand why their hospital had been ranked among the best in Canada, receiving Class A certification by the Joint Commission on Accreditation. The rating was based on professional services, operational staff and the physical plant, and Leamington was the only hospital of similar size in the country to receive the honour. Dr. Lyon, who was chairman of the Canadian Commission on Hospital Accreditation, believed it was in the best interest of both patients and staff that hospitals maintained set standards in medical care. “It is the people who make up the hospital that make the service good or bad,” he wrote in a Globe and Mail article on hospital standards. Board Chairman John Reynolds said “the hospital family was justifiably proud of the gains made and reputation established in a few years of service,” and declared the hospital “a proven essential part of the district’s life.”
Early community partnerships were apparent not only when it came to raising awareness but in matters of life and death as well. In 1953, for example, an emergency operation was successfully performed on an 18-year-old, car accident victim, largely due to the co-operation and quick response by Ontario Hydro. Detroit brain surgeon Dr. Frederick Schreiber and his Leamington colleague Dr. Philip Huber, asked Ontario Hydro if it was possible to alter the hospital’s electrical frequency temporarily in order to run a coagulating machine required for the procedure. The Hydro worker installed the frequency alternator and remained with the hospital electrician until the operation was finished, in case further adjustments were necessary.
By 1955, the hospital had reached 80 per cent capacity and Dr. Lyon urged immediate planning to increase the size and number of beds before they reached “the danger zone”. He pointed to increasing longevity and birth rates – a trend he felt would quickly put greater demands on the hospital.
Following the recommendations of Dr. Lyon, the Board hired consultants Agnew, Peckham and Associates in 1956 to evaluate current facilities, and determine future needs and expansion requirements. The report recommended the addition of 29 beds and provision of all necessary services to allow for a future expansion to a 100-bed hospital. The estimated cost of the project was $300,000.
The Women’s Auxiliary was growing as well. They introduced the Gift Shop and Tuck Tray - services they believed would help meet the needs of both patients and visitors. Auxiliary members were told “to get busy and knit” to help stock shelves with hand-made gift items. The Tuck Tray gave patients an opportunity to purchase bedside essentials. To this day, the Gift Shop has proved a reliable source of income for the Auxiliary.
In July of the same year, Dr. Robert E. McGirr came to Leamington and set up practice in the offices of Drs. E.K. Lyon and M.J. Setterington. He was greeted at the door of the hospital by supervisor Jessie Tillett, who gave him a tour of the facilities and introduced him to all the staff. According to Dr. McGirr, nurse Tillett was “the heart and soul of the hospital,” and did her best to ensure that staff members felt they fit in. She was the first in a long line of leaders in the nursing department - the essential backbones of the hospital team. Nursing Directors Pat McGee, Ann Summers, Donna Butcher, Phyllis Hicks, and their staff, carried on Tillett’s tradition of providing doctors with the best medical and moral support, even in the most difficult of times. Over the years, when the hospital was in various stages of construction, renovation and restructuring, the nurses were the glue that held it all together. The camaraderie that was fostered in the early years enhanced the hospital experience for both patients and staff, and the spirit of teamwork has since flourished.
A building committee was formed in 1957 under the chairmanship of Gil Morris, the assistant manager of engineering at the H.J. Heinz Company of Canada. Morris was deemed “one of Leamington’s driving forces” behind the hospital’s expansion project. His committee worked closely with consultants and architects to create a plan based on recommendations from the original report.
In 1957, the birth rate outnumbered the death rate, putting the population of Leamington up to 8,800. The later half of the 1950's saw the hospital reaching 100 per cent capacity with waiting lists of up to 25 patients requiring non-emergency treatment. At the same time, it appeared the Ontario Hospital Services Commission plan for medical coverage was to become a reality. The staff braced itself for the impact a 25 per cent increase in the number of insured patients was expected to have. This, and the fact that the hospital was serving an area with a population of approximately 30,000 - 10,000 more than it was originally built to serve - convinced the committee it was better to skip phase one of the expansion plan. In 1958, Stanley J. Johnson was hired as the hospital’s first administrator.
In his report to the Board, Gil Morris said that in the first eight years 10,000 operations had been performed and 24,000 people had been admitted to the hospital. He therefore concluded that virtually every family in the district had a relative in the hospital at some point, making “the hospital’s problems everyone’s business”. In response, the Board decided to launch an immediate full-scale public campaign to raise capital for a three-wing addition. The project, which would cost $770,000, would double the hospital’s capacity, expanding the laboratory from 87 to 670 square feet, and the emergency and admitting areas from 240 to 800 square feet. Board Chairman Irving Cantor led the Fund Raising Committee, assisted by Jack Atkin and W.E. Selkirk. Cantor said the initial estimate was “not realistic” as it did not take into consideration the equipment and furnishings. Again, sod was turned on Talbot Street on February 4, 1959.
The following August, the hospital received an advance payment by the provincial government towards the expansion. The cheque for $37,998.66, was the first of almost $300,000 worth of provincial and federal grants they would receive. The municipalities also pledged $160,000, and the H.J. Heinz Company made a generous donation of $50,000. Since the government said it would not pick up any short falls, $270,000 was left to be raised within the community. A mass mailing resulted in 653 new subscriptions worth close to $15,000. In October, Essex County Council granted Leamington District Memorial Hospital a loan of $350,000 to be paid over a ten year period. Cantor was quoted as saying 1959 was “a trying year,” however he concluded that the results were worthwhile, as the hospital would now meet the needs of his community.
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Matthew B. Dymond, the Ontario Minister of Health, officially opened the new hospital wing on June 28, 1960. It was named the Evans Memorial Wing, in memory of Ruby S. Morse, who donated $125,000 from her estate. Morse, a member of the Evans family, provided the hospital with the largest bequest it had ever received. Dr. Dymond paid tribute to the “spirit” of the area residents who so willingly backed the undertaking, and told the crowd to move forward with further expansion plans. “I am confident that we are entering a greater era of expansion,” he said. “Leamington will expand and the hospital must keep pace with it. Courage, vision and faith are essential to meet the challenges of the future".
Prior to 1946, there were fewer than 16,000 hospital beds in the province of Ontario. By 1960, there were 32,000 and growing, and Dymond boasted that the province provided the best health care in the country. "In your Leamington hospital and its expanded facilities, we have a symbol of that system,” he said. Dymond encouraged the residents to continue to support their hospital and cautioned them against relying “too heavily” on financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments.
By the fall of 1960, a chronic shortage of nurses occurred when many were lured to Windsor hospitals by higher wages. The crisis forced the Board to approve a salary increase of $10, bringing the starting rate for RNs up to $270 per month. The new pay schedule put the nurses at Leamington on a comparable level with other hospitals.
The doctors were busier than ever, juggling their practices, hospital duties, families, and community commitments. Having yet to enter the age of advanced communications, the only way to contact an off-duty doctor was to be lucky enough to catch him at home. Dr. McGirr recalled a police officer once flagging him down on Highway 3 to let him know one of his patients had gone into labour.
In June of ‘61, at the annuaI Board meeting, guest speaker Dr. R.W. I. Urquhart, chairman of the Ontario Hospital Services Commission, echoed the sentiments of Dr. Dymond. He said that greater government interference would dissolve the autonomy the hospital had achieved through independent voluntary leadership. “This is a tradition we should be proud of,” he said. “You can’t buy this type of service.”
The Women’s Auxiliary continued to be a fine example of invaluable voluntary service. In the first ten years, active membership averaged 35 to 40 annually with up to 225 associate members from Wheatley, Kingsville and Leamington. Over $20,000 dollars had been raised to date with the addition of raffles and card parties to their list of fundraising activities, and the development of cradle pictures and a visitor’s card desk to their list of services. Subsequent gifts to the hospital included two suction machines, drapery, bathrobes for the patients, a $6,500 donation to the building fund and a $500 nursing school scholarship. At the Auxiliary’s 12th Anniversary meeting, Board Chairman Irving Cantor praised the members for their contributions. “The women never do get the credit which is their due,” he said "But just try to run a hospital without their assistance. It can’t be done.”
That same year, the Candy Striper Program, organized by Leila Huffmon, was launched to give young girls who might be contemplating a career in health care the opportunity to learn about hospital service first hand . The Auxiliary was responsible for co-ordinating the volunteer duties of a group of 13 girls, ages 16 through 18. After receiving training, they assisted staff with feeding children, wheeling patients for x-rays, as well as making beds. The volunteers earned their name because of their white and pink striped uniforms.
In June of 1961, another act of exceptional teamwork saved the life of a 40-year-old Kingsville woman. After having presented in emergency with internal bleeding a surgical team proceeded to perform 52 separate blood transfusions over the course of three days. The tireless efforts of lab technician Enrica Ocodol and Dr. Gordon Garwood, combined with the co-operative efforts of the blood bank services of the Canadian Red Cross, led to the success of the hospital’s record breaking performance.
The staff and facilities were being increasingly taxed, and Dr. Dymond’s predictions were quickly unfolding. Medical Staff President, Dr. McGirr, believed they were “victims of their own success,” and urged the Board to consider expanding facilities as soon as possible based on an average occupancy rate in September of 1963 of 97.2 per cent. He recommended the creation of more medical-surgical beds as well as special attention to the intensive care and convalescent units.
During the initial stages of the second expansion, Irving Cantor was concerned it was following too closely on the heels of the first. Regardless, Doug Claxton and the members of the planning committee hired Carter-Fraser Architects to design a plan that would include four new wings and an add-on to the original west wing. They presented the plan that would provide 67 new beds to the Ontario Hospital Services Commission in June of 1965. The original estimate for the project was $1.8 million.
While the hospital waited for approval to grow physically, it continued to expand its services internally. In 1964, an anaesthesia department was added, led by Dr. James A. Taylor, and a paediatric department by Dr. McGirr. In 1965, the Women’s Auxiliary contributed greatly to the internal climate by purchasing air conditioning for the hospital’s foyer.
Shortly after, the Board received permission to proceed, and Easter Construction Company Ltd. of Windsor won the tender to construct the new wings. By that time, costs had increased to $2.5 million, with $700,000 in tax-based contributions pledged by County Council, and almost $900,000 in provincial and federal grants.
In response to recommendations by Dr. B.L. Brosseau, commissioner of hospitals for the Ontario Hospital Services Commission, Leamington launched its first ten-month registered nursing assistants training program. The class of 20 began their schooling on September 1, 1966 under the methodical care of Jessie Tillett. In on attempt to keep up with the demand for improved academics in the field, the hospital also provided refresher courses for graduates and RNs. The proposed expansion included classroom space to accommodate the various programs. The first RNA class graduated on June 6, 1967.
A ribbon cutting ceremony took place October 11, 1967 with the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen, Minister of National Health and Welfare attending. The final cost of the project came in at $2,609,983. The expansion brought the total number of beds up to 167, and added a new power plant, stand-by generator and equipment, kitchen and cafeteria, laboratory, pharmacy, and a physiotherapy facility. In light of all the changes, the Auxiliary was granted new and improved space for their gift shop as well. Mr. MacEachan would return in June of 1968 to open the reorganized chronic and long stay wing, with the intensive care unit opening later that summer.
Because history has a tendency to repeat itself, Board members were not surprised when they were called upon in 1969 to hire Agnew, Peckham and Associates to determine long range needs for the overcrowded emergency department. The final distribution from the Henry Estate, worth $120,683 53, could not have come at a better time. Mary C. Henry was later to receive recognition for her family’s generous contributions, with the dedication of the new emergency department in her memory.
1968 was viewed as a year of re-organization and adjustment as the staff gained its footing with the new facilities. As the decade drew to a close, they were caught in a whirlwind of increasing demand on their time and services. Unbeknownst to them, the delivery of health care was about to change. In the following years, budgeting would become the focus and faith the key to survive.
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The 1970s began on a high note, as plans to spend $360,000 to expand the ER, and add a five-bed intensive care unit moved along. Board members were already dreaming of adding a $1 million two-storey addition to the south wing. Though the hospital was not under construction at the time, various internal changes occurred within the different departments. Following recommendations by the Ontario Hospital Association, laundry and linen services were discontinued and transferred to Windsor Hospital Linen Service. An inhalation therapy program and diabetic clinic were established, as well. The Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) home care service was introduced to help accelerate patient discharge, and subsequently lead to the better utilization of beds. There were also extensive equipment additions to the laboratory, making it easier to serve both the hospital and local physicians’ needs. Jessie Tillett announced her retirement after 20 years of devoted service, giving up her position as director of the RNA program a year before it was dismantled. The program was replaced by a joint clinical training venture between Leamington Hospital and St Clair College in the fall of ’72.
By 1971, the hospital’s operating budget exceeded $2 million. In order to consolidate services and work more efficiently, payroll moved to London Hospital Computer Centre. St John’s Ambulance Service was invited to help the hospital provide lectures and training seminars. Preliminary plans for a 58-bed expansion were presented to the Essex County Hospital Planning Committee with hopes to have it built by 1975. The department of chronic care was established, and the women’s Auxiliary organized a program for the chronic care patients that included visits, special outings, meal-time assistance, and the preparation of monthly treats. The contract for construction of the expanded emergency and intensive care departments was signed in June. The 1971-72 year end with an operating surplus of $44,986.
It appeared that the planning committee could not work fast enough to keep up with demand. Pressure was mounting as the occupancy rate of medical and surgical beds reached 110 per cent. Fortunately, the overflow was absorbed by vacancies in the chronic care unit. In another move to lessen the load on a harried staff, mandatory admission chest x rays were temporarily halted, and ready mixed formula was introduced in the maternity ward.
Administrator J.A. Ritchie and Delta Construction Ltd., of Windsor, worked prudently to ensure service continued with minimal disruption. However, even the best laid plans can fall victim to unexpected misfortune. After having completed his rounds one morning, Dr. McGirr, headed to the parking lot only to find his car at the bottom of a giant pit. Ritchie was annoyed with Dr. McGirr’s insistence that he go out to help him “find” his car. The planned repair of the parking facilities was apparently long over due. A broken sewer main was responsible for the ground giving way and swallowing its occupant. It took a crane fitted with a sling-like devise to rescue the car from its early grave.
When the new emergency department officially opened on April 12, 1972, the expanded ER and outpatient facilities provided 4000 square feet of working area - considerably more than the previous 400 square feet. The only oversight was the omission of a closet for staff and patients to hang their coats. Since 1961, the ER caseload had increased from 603 to 9,986 patients. By offering a 24-hour service with two daytime nurses and sufficient evening and midnight staff, the hospital was confident it could handle any emergency. Together with the further development of laboratory and x-ray facilities, the services offered at Leamington Hospital were greatly enhanced. The parking lot was also improved, doubling its capacity to house 210 vehicles.
With the introduction of corporate structuring in the administration department, the role of doctors shifted from “being totally in charge” to being part of an organizational team. While their involvement in executive affairs lessened, their practices grew more intense. A “doing more with less” policy was introduced in 1972 when the Ontario Hospital Services mission imposed a budget increase limit of seven per cent. Board Chairman Gil Morris was concerned as Leamington’s spending rate was already one of the lowest of comparably sized hospitals. Board member Joe Lightfoot complained: “It would appear we are being penalized for efficient operation.”
Dr. Robert Page joined the Leamington staff, July 1, 1973 as a general practitioner. As part of his hospital privileges obligation, he would rotate through many departments and positions before finding his niche in elderly and convalescent care.
As the level of activity in the hospital rose, one of the features of being located in Canada’s banana belt was becoming too hot to handle. The medical staff complained about intolerable working conditions and patients were suffering horribly when the mercury rose. The Board decided they needed to install air conditioning, and asked the Ministry of Health for assistance. Dr. R.J. McGee felt any expenditure on air conditioning would be “money well spent.” The Board hoped the high marks they received from ministry inspectors, who called their operations “extremely well run,” would increase their chances of getting a grant.
In April of 1974, a statistical report revealed Leamington Hospital had admitted more patients than during the same period the previous year. The hospital was recognized as being busier than ever.
At the same time, the Board sought approval from the Ministry to proceed with plans to air-condition most of the 172 bed hospital at a proposed cost of $614,000. The previous proposal was rejected because it carried a price tag of $750,000. Unfortunately, plans were put on hold when it was discovered the hospital would require considerable electrical upgrading to accommodate the system.
The hospital moved on with renovations in the hospital’s west wing, and improvements to the administrative areas, the pharmacy, medical, the boardroom, and the doctors’ lounge were drafted. The Gift Shop received added growing space, and the subsequent renovations led to a 15-day shutdown in June.
1975 was the year the Ministry of Health imposed severe budget cuts that led to hospital closures across the province. Board Chairman G.A. Gallagher stated in his annual report: “The fact that Leamington District Memorial Hospital was not ordered to close down any of its active treatment beds or reduce its operating budget, is indicative of the efficient manner in which the hospital has been operating.” He was proud to add that despite the circumstances, the hospital received another full three-year accreditation.
The same year, the Ministry of Health established the Essex County District Health Council to evaluate and co-ordinate the health care needs of the region.
On January 21,1976, original Board member, Dr. H.R. Nicklin died. Dr. Nicklin was an early partner of Dr E.K. Lyon, and an excellent anaesthetist. Nicklin House, his former home at 88 Erie St South, became a multi-service centre under South Essex Community Council.
In the following years, the hospital experienced even tighter budget restraints. There was concern within the community that the quality of health care delivered at the hospital would suffer. In an attempt to alleviate their worries, the hospital’s public relations department launched an information program. Their goal was to introduce area residents to the “complex and costly” nature of health care through public displays, demonstrations and hospital visits. Public Relations Officer, John Edwards said the campaign was created to help the public understand why hospital costs are high. In recognition of National Health Day, the slogan “Health Care is a Costly Business -But Still Your Best Value,” was adopted. “There is nothing of more value to an individual than his own good health,” said Edwards. By better informing the public, hospital officials hoped to reduce concern over the fact that the hospital had over spent its 1975 budget by $149,000. The hospital’s administrator, Harold Seckington, noted that the hospital had exceeded its budget only once before. Despite the restraints, the hospital’s electrical system was upgraded at a cost of $116,000, and the Board submitted two proposals for new x-ray equipment.
At the annual Board meeting in June, speaker Charles Clark, chairman of the Essex County District Health Council, predicted a rough road ahead. “The free-spending days of the ‘50s and ‘60s are over,” he cautioned. “There are only limited resources for health care now and these must be controlled to meet our needs at a reasonable cost.”
In the fall of 1976, the axe fell, and the hospital took a staggering blow when a $200,000 proposed deficit forced the Board to slash its operating costs. Seckington announced they had no choice but to take 45 beds out of service and lay off 30 workers for the balance of the year. As ministry funding was based on the number of patient days a hospital maintained, Leamington proved too efficient for its own good. Because the number of patient days fell below the anticipated rate, the budget was recalculated and a deficit resulted. Seckington promised there would be no change in the high standard of patient care.
The medical staff did not agree, and in a letter to the Leamington Post, Dr. Robert Page, secretary of the medical staff, said he took exception to Seckington’s statement. Dr. Page believed cutbacks in at least one area would “leave the number of staff at a level that could endanger patient care.” In another editorial comment, writer Jim Este urged residents to write their MPP and the Minister of Health to “put a stop to this insane watering-down” of services. “Are we going to let this happen to our community?” he asked.
When an article in the London Free Press announced the savings the Ministry of Health anticipated through cutbacks fell $22 million short, rumours spread quickly throughout the community. Residents worried that the cutbacks were a prelude to closing. Not only was the community scared, there was tension among the staff as well. Patients were scattered throughout the wards, increasing the risk of cross infection. Two physicians, Drs. J.J. Guilbert and L.J. Pearson resigned as department heads, and the nursing staff was reduced by 75 per cent more than originally announced. Fewer staff meant less effective communication, and the added pressure took its toll. Morale was at an all-time low. Resident Stephanie Knight submitted a petition and received a reply from the Ministry denying all rumours of closure.
When an even “tougher” budget came down, the Board decided to hire the consulting firm of Naus and Newlyn Company to file a preliminary report “outlining money- saving measures to consider.” The firm promised the hospital would save double their fee or the difference refunded. For $72,000, they offered to develop a plan that would cut costs by making concessions in nursing, housekeeping and the lab. The Board rejected the study, as Harold Seckington was concerned “morale would suffer at a greater cost to the hospital.” He felt they could accomplish the .5 per cent savings themselves.
In April of 1977, the Board received notice from the Ministry that the hospital could install air conditioning provided they “foot the bill” themselves. Before moving forward, they decided to have the original plan reviewed to see if it was still feasible.
A Ministry of Health survey in July indicated the average cost of $686 for a patient staying at Leamington Hospital, was the lowest among 30 Ontario hospitals of comparable size. They were praised for cutting the patient’s length of stay as opposed to the quality of care they received.
In October, word spread that the Ministry would be reducing budget increases from seven to four per cent. In the event that the money was needed to cover operating shortfalls, the Board decided it wise not to dip deeply into the capital works account. Again, the air conditioning project was shelved until the Board could come up with a better solution.
Due to increasing uncertainty of future hospital financing, a long-range planning committee was created to look at roof repairs, window replacement, and address the growing needs in chronic care. In February of 1978, the Board was facing a potential $40,000 deficit. Board member A.D. Law felt health officials were purposely forcing community hospitals to seek financial support from the public. It had been ten years since their last major public appeal.
“There was a certain reluctance” in going to the public. The Board was worried residents would resent being asked to contribute beyond their taxes. “We were pleasantly surprised,” recalled Dr. McGirr, when the community agreed to help support a $1.2 million plan to replace all windows, install air conditioning and a heat recovery system, add a five-bed day surgery unit, and expand the chronic care unit to 32 beds. The Invest in Your Future Health Care Campaign was launched with a lofty goal of $500,000.
Further layoffs were avoided by shutting down beds during the summer of ‘78. Vacationing staff members were not replaced and the result was a significant cost savings.
In August, Dr. Edwin McLean received Wheatley’s Citizen of the Year award, and was honoured for his devoted service to the community. Jessie Tillett passed away the following month. The Auxiliary would later create a bursary in her honour.
Still reeling from the blow of the four per cent budget increase - the lowest in ten provinces - the Board appealed to the Ministry for $150,000 in additional funding to avoid another deficit. During his September ‘79 visit, Health Minister Dennis Timbrell agreed to “some” additional funding, and said the Ministry would help with the annual operational costs of air conditioning in chronic care. At the Region 1 Conference of the Hospital Auxiliaries Association at Pelee Motor Inn, he praised the Auxiliary for their important role. “You are in a position to provide that human contact that regular hospital staff do not always have time to provide,” he said.
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The “Invest in Your Future Health Care Campaign” crossed into the ‘80s with a mailing blitz and door-to-door canvassing. Renovations began, and the project was expected to be completed by September. The plan was divided into several phases to minimize disruptions. The Auxiliary gave the campaign a welcome shot in the arm with the presentation of a cheque for $15,000. Still battling a deficit, the administration announced the temporary closure of beds until the fall, bringing the total number down from 144 to 118.
Administrator Harold Seckington predicted the delivery of health care in the future would depend on the needs of an aging population, health research, new diagnostic tools, lifestyle, nutrition and the economic health of the community.
By 1981, the hospital’s operating budget had reached almost $7 million. Technological advances in the field of medicine forced Leamington to re-evaluate worn out and out dated equipment, and the Board was concerned the hospital would fall behind. As a result, $230,000 was allocated for ultrasound and anaesthetic machines, a gastroscope, and a CouIter blood cell counter for the lab. A “family” room for parents of paediatric patients was also created to help alleviate fears and reduce the impact of child parent separation. In 1982, the Board put another $275,000 towards miscellaneous equipment replacement, roof repairs and renovations to both the kitchen and admitting areas. In an attempt to provide better role modeling on health issues, the hospital’s cigarette dispenser was removed and smoking was restricted to certain areas only.
Feeling it was time again to connect with the community, Board Chairman Robert (Bob) Scott, commissioned the staff to prepare a series of articles for the Leamington Post. The series, entitled It’s Your Hospital, was published over several months in 1983 to help better acquaint residents with the services they so generously supported. He believed it was important the community knew what was available if they or a family member required treatment. “We may be modest in size but the standard of care is top flight,” said Scott.The series included features on eight departments.
In June of ‘83, Paul Vasey’s “The County Line” column in the Windsor Star, received a letter from a concerned senior citizen. Constance Cooper was worried that the ER’S on-call system might be detrimental to her and her husband’s health. “How long are we going to have to wait?” she asked. In response, the chief of emergency assured readers that if their services were required, several doctors would be available in less than ten minutes. Leamington was not the only rural hospital without full-time physician coverage in the ER.
The entire community was deeply saddened when Dr. E.K. Lyon suddenly passed away that same month. He had practiced medicine in Leamington for 45 years and his peers and patients were indebted to him for all that he brought to the profession. Dr. McGirr, long time friend and colleague, was elected President of the Essex County Medical Association the following year. He was one of only four Leamington doctors who held the prestigious position, including Dr. Lyon in 1946, Dr. Jim Taylor in 1971, and Dr. Tom Barnard in 1999.
Seemingly unaware of the hospital’s financial predicament, the building continued to deteriorate, forcing the building committee to allocate money for general upkeep. The roof and bricks were restored, the boiler coil replaced and, much to the relief of the surgical staff, the temperature and humidity controls were updated in the OR and obstetrical units. Loftier aspirations included an atrium for the proposed chronic care wing. Board member Floyd Cacciavillani was concerned that since some of the patients could never get out of the building, an atrium would help lift their spirits. By the end of the decade, the Board would get permission to build a new incinerator and replace the generator at a cost of close to $800,000. A 20-year plan to refurbish the building was already being discussed.
The Auxiliary launched a membership drive in 1985 to recruit more volunteers to don the familiar pink smocks. Membership at the time had leveled at 150, with 90 members actively involved. Annual Auxiliary fundraisers generated approximately $10,000, and the help they continued to offer staff and patients was priceless.
Roger Sheeler joined the hospital as chief executive officer, succeeding Harold Seckington, who had been the administrator for 12 years. He was an active leader and his tenacity literally helped put Leamington on the map. Sheeler and Dr. McGirr attended regular meetings of the Essex County District Health Council, and started every discussion with a simple, yet apparently not so obvious message. “We are here from Leamington District Memorial Hospital, which constitutes one of FIVE hospitals of the district...” Dr. McGirr laughed that it took almost two years before the council secretary included the hospital’s name in its report. “Eventually they considered us one of the area hospitals.”
Together the staff and administration pursued innovative solutions to overcome increasing impediments. Weekend coverage of the ER was by Med-Emergency Inc. Services of London. The agency supplied post-graduates who benefited from the opportunity of being exposed to a multitude of medical situations and the community benefited through improved care. In 1988, Dr. Bill Posloski agreed to take over as chief of the emergency department. As part of a quality assurance initiative, a mission statement was drafted to lend clarity, and a committee was formed to monitor the activities of all levels of the organization.
In a continued effort to foster close connection between the community and the hospital, the public relations department staged a contest to design a logo - something the hospital was lacking. They were always looking for ways to “enhance public awareness,” and wanted to give the public greater opportunity to become “actively involved.” The response was positive. Of the 46 submissions, Rosy McGregor’s was chosen because of its unique design and its accurate philosophical representation. She described the repeating “L” imagery as representing Leamington as the centre of the Sun Parlour district the hospital serves. The incompleteness of the circle signified the “incomplete state of health of the patient which the hospital strives to care for with compassion, dignity and respect.” The logo has been part of the hospital’s correspondence ever since.
The findings of a study on mental health care requirements in southern Essex County prompted hospital officials to submit a mental health proposal to the Essex County District Health Council in May of 1986. Information that was gathered from area high schools, fire and police departments, and medical staff, pointed to the need for 24 hour crisis intervention. The estimated annual cost of the proposed project was $250,000.
In June of the same year the hospital announced they were experiencing a crisis of their own. They were operating with a $578,514 deficit - the result of wage increases, the rising cost of equipment and supplies, and “skyrocketing” insurance premiums. Roger Sheeler asked the Ministry to cover the deficit and increase funding to expand programs. He claimed that local statistics warranted larger grants. “We’ve pared everything right to the bone,” he said in response. Up to that time, the ER had handled approximately 13,000 visits - 2,000 more cases than the previous year, yet with less resources.
A medical advisory committee was established, and for the first time, the hospital began actively recruiting medical staff. When Mexican internist and candidate, Dr. Enrique Guerra, was denied a licence to practice in Ontario, Kingsville Town Council sent a letter to the Minister of Health, Murray Elston. They believed Dr. Guerra was a fine choice for the available position because his multi-lingual abilities would well serve the needs of their multi-cultured community. Helen Law, community leader and director of the Helen Law Singers, sent a letter of protest to Premier David Peterson. The Ministry insisted there were already enough licensed physicians in Ontario. The problem, however, remained - trying to get one of them to come to Leamington.
When the medical community reacted to the introduction of Bill 94, legislation that would prohibit extra billing, Leamington area doctors put ‘the needs of their patients first, by refusing to support the Ontario Medical Association’s decision to strike. In a Leamington Post editorial, the majority of Leamington physicians who chose not to “inconvenience their patients,” were praised for their commitment to the community. “Residents of the areas served by Leamington District Memorial Hospital are fortunate their doctors are much more restrained than others in their profession in Ontario.
The Auxiliary’s Candy Striper program was renamed and marked a milestone when two teenage boys were recruited. Tom Hildebrant and Eliah Susevski joined 40 girls in the Teen Volunteer Program to help assist the nursing staff with their daily routine.
Hoping to improve the aesthetics and provide a more home-like environment, a redecorating initiative was undertaken with particular attention to the continuing care unit. The process was temporarily interrupted due to an “emergency” in paediatrics, but was finally finished at the end of 1988 to the delight of both patients and staff. A $30,000 bequest from the Heedle Estate allowed them to select various colours and patterns based on the likes of individual patients.
The paediatric ward got its unexpected face lift when a pipe burst and caused extensive water damage. The walls were repainted with colourful animal kingdom characters, and the children were provided with a new McDonald’s-like sitting area where they could eat their meals and feel less institutionalized. The only regret was that the work of Craig Robinson, a former patient and artist, would be painted over. Robinson had hemophilia and died in 1988 at the age of 36. In 1988, Past Board Chairman Floyd Cacciavillani was elected to the Essex County District Health Council. In April of the same year, the government announced they would not pick up deficits. Board Chairman Gerry Cole, therefore, decided to follow through with plans to establish a $900,000 line of credit to allow for the timely payment of bills. Accepting the reality that larger scale fundraising would be the way of the future, the Hospital Foundation was established to administer on-going fundraising activities, and manage a new charitable trust fund. A capital equipment wish list was created, and was filled with over $1 million worth of “wishes.”
A central registry program was introduced at the cost of $100,000, and led to significant savings in labour and improved communications. It proved a benefit to both administration and the patients. The VON and Metro Windsor-Essex County Health Unit moved off the hospital premises because of a lack of space to accommodate their office requirements. The hospital also went on record encouraging the establishment of 911 emergency service for the district, and its eventual implementation was the direct result of persistent lobbying by M.P.P. Bruce Crozier, ER nurse June Sonnenberg, and the ER staff.
The year was described as one of “progress and restraint.” In their medical staff report, Drs. McGirr and Osborn commended their staff for "rising above the pitfalls and continuing to improve their ability to serve.” According to Roger Sheeler, “the necessity to monitor spending so closely took a great deal of energy that could have been harnessed so much more effectively in a positive and productive fashion.” He expected the financial challenges would continue claiming "politics could far outweigh realism.”
There was no lack of energy displayed by members of the obstetrical unit, who fulfilled a ten-year dream of Dr. Edward Sabga. Dr. Sabga, along with Leamington resident and hospital advocate, Eola Cinicola, committed themselves to organizing a Casino Night fundraiser to renovate the maternity ward. Again, the community generously supported this voluntary effort and provided the unit with $30,000 to complete the project.
The Auxiliary introduced a volunteer porter program to help reduce the load of an already overworked staff. They also brought volunteer cuddlers into the maternity ward to help comfort distraught infants.
A surprise visit by Minister of Health Elinor Caplin on July 4, 1988, gave hospital officials the opportunity to voice their opinions about regional inequalities in the dispersal of health care dollars. They made a plea for programs like crisis intervention, psychiatric support, speech pathology, social services and nuclear medicine - services that were taken for granted in larger urban hospitals. The visit, although brief, made enough of an impact on the Minister, that in 1990, Dr. E.C. Guerra was granted his medical licence and joined Leamington’s team.
A study was commissioned by the Board to identify, among other things, the most appropriate role of the hospital.
Simultaneously, the Essex County District Health Council engaged the same firm as Leamington Hospital to conduct a similar review of all health facilitators within the county.
In November 1989, Ministry of Health representative, Joan Cameron, came to Leamington as part of a strategy to develop a Long Term Care Services Plan. Leamington was chosen as her first stop in a tour of all long term care facilities in Essex County, because the chronic care unit met provincial standards in terms of length of stay and per cent occupancy. With a significant population of people age 65 and over, senior support services were vital to the community. The hospital Board and administration recognized this, and in turn, were recognized by Ministry officials for their astuteness.
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The buzzword that ruled the 90s in the health care field was “challenge.” The entire staff at Leamington Hospital strove to maintain quality services, all the while having to cope with financial pressures. Job losses were imminent, and the future of the hospital was uncertain. The system experienced continual changes - some that were welcomed and others that were not. “It was a lot easier 30 years ago,” said Dr. Robert Page, chief of staff. “I think that in a lot of ways, though, we’ve been able to react more quickly to the same challenges. We certainly seem to be able to maintain patient care and stay within a budget.”
The decision to implement a paid parking program wasn’t met with open arms. However, it was determined by the parking committee that in order to maintain the facilities, the lot would have to pay for itself. With little space left to expand, the Board decided to buy a piece of property at the corner of Talbot and Fader to accommodate future development. The land acquisition was viewed as an investment, as well as a way to follow the Ministry directive to move services to the community. When the Crisis Intervention Program received funding approval in 1991, Fader House became the home for the new counselling centre.
Embracing every opportunity to reach out, the public relations department jumped at the chance to attend the International Plowing Match. Cultivating a Healthier Community was the chosen theme. A demonstration crew, set up to take blood pressure and discuss personal health care matters, was well received by the farming community.
A United Way grant made it possible for the Hospice of Windsor to establish a program at the hospital. The new service reduced the need for volunteers and clients to travel to Windsor, and provided educational support for Leamington’s hospital staff.
In April, the hospital hosted the Sun Parlour Cancer Society’s Third Annual breast self-examination teaching clinic. Dr. Cameron MacDonald, a prominent radiologist from Windsor, purchased a mammography machine and provided it for use at his office in Kingsville. As the centre of health care service in the county, the hospital created many partnerships with various social service groups to meet the community’s ever growing needs. They later entered into a joint venture with the Ontario Breast Screening Program to create a local, accessible and comprehensive program that would include screening as well as treatment.
The plan to overhaul the obstetrical department was well underway. It involved redecorating and a major renovation, including relocation of the nurses’ station and nursery, and installing additional bathroom facilities. Another improvement in the maternity ward was the onset of the Early Obstetrical Discharge Program. Mothers who had experienced an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery were allowed to go home within the first 48 hours of giving birth. Professional follow-up with was provided by the VON who visited the mom and her baby at home.
The hospital received a special grant from the Ministry of Health to refurbish the laboratory, which was in dire need of updating. In June of ’90, the lab was relocated with improvements to lighting, ventilation and utilization of space. Other building enhancements included upgrading the fire, electrical and steam systems. The Ministry also approved the purchase and installation of a new emergency power generator.
Advances in technology were drastically changing the way the hospital delivered service. From office automation to the latest diagnostic tools, keeping up was essential. Between 1980 and 1990, over $1.5 million dollars was spent on medical equipment alone. The Board was constantly inventing innovative ways to work within the confines of “the system,” creating committee after committee to better review their options.
For the first time in ten years, a fundraising committee was created to consider immediate capital needs and prepare a priority list. An initial goal of $750,000 was set to pay for the recently acquired Echocardiogram, and the planned purchase of a C-arm, Ultrasound and anaesthetic gas machine. The hospital hoped to introduce Mammography and Nuclear Medicine as well. Under the guidance of Past Chairman Don Emerson, who presided over the last major campaign, the committee decided to take a more personal approach to fundraising. Preliminary canvassing commenced in the fall of 1990, and pledges were collected through December of 1992. The last major fundraising campaign paid for the hospital’s air conditioning system. The entire hospital staff was grateful to the community as the change in temperature greatly enhanced their working conditions.
In November of ‘91, the $2.15 million Equipment Fund Campaign was officially launched. Board member John Ingratta led more than 600 volunteer canvassers into the community to give the public the opportunity to ask questions. The campaign was a huge undertaking as volunteers required extensive training and had to be supplied with adequate materials to do their job. Drs. E. Jarecsni, G. Klassen and R. McGirr “went on tour,” and attracted much attention to the cause with their convincing 45 minute public presentation. Within the first seven months, $1,750,000 was collected from 9,000 donors. Acting Executive Director, Kathleen Regan, was astonished by the response “In these hard economic times such support is overwhelming,” she said.
The same year, the Women’s Auxiliary changed its name in order to recruit from a larger group. Five men were initiated in 1992, and the Auxiliary hoped they would make good role models for further recruiting. The Auxiliary established an “escort service” to help visitors and patients find their way around the hospital, which in turn reduced some of the confusion, and frustration previously experienced. The Hospital Auxiliary made a generous $40,000 donation to the equipment fund as part of a planned three-year pledge of $100,000.
James Egan joined the hospital as executive director in 1991, when the Equipment Fund Campaign was halfway to reaching its goal. His main focus was to significantly increase and enhance the hospital’s technological capabilities. He also hoped to direct the hospital towards further improving community relations.
The Essex County District Health Council began the process of reconfiguring the health care system of the region. In hopes of determining new ways to create partnerships within the health care community, each area hospital was asked to contribute to a discussion paper. In response, the hospital developed and distributed an “awareness” brochure and survey. The results were submitted to the Council, and the information was used to identify service gaps and particular needs. The ensuing report, entitled The Essex County Win/Win Model, concluded that Leamington should remain the only “general hospital in the area,’ with more focus on outpatient clinics, and ambulatory care. The recommendations were well received, because the hospital would not only complement services offered in Windsor, but would reduce the number of patient referrals to London. Leamington was recognized as growing more rapidly than similar communities and recommendations were made to support innovative approaches to health care.
A partnership between the Windsor Essex County Health Unit and the Leamington District Memorial Hospital led to the transfer of responsibility for the Pelee Island Nursing Station from the health unit to the hospital in 1991. Discussions were imperative folllowing the fatal crash of one of the air ambulances, and plans were laid to build a new nursing station with communication links to the hospital. By 1996, the Island Clinic was equipped with a heliport to improve the transport of cardiac patients and the overall quality of emergency service. The Clinic was managed by Marlene (Mo) Pierce, and provided 24-hour, on-call nurse coverage. In 1995, 1897 patients were treated in comparison to 1991, when 1221 patients sought medical care on the island.
Technological updating continued to be a priority. As a result of the community’s ardent support of the Equipment Fund Campaign, the hospital was able to purchase a full colour Doppler Ultrasound and Parker Tub for the Obstetrical Department. A Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy instrument, a state-of-the-art patient monitoring system for the Intensive Care Unit, and a Patient Controlled Analgesic (PCA) system were added to the list. Further purchases included pulmonary function equipment, a laser for rehabilitation services, a Holter System for the cardiopulmonary department, and a Coagulation Analyzer for the Lab. By March of ‘92, 93 pieces of new equipment had been purchased, and the Hospital Auxiliary provided the funds to make the transition from manual to electric beds.
In the October 1992 edition of Chatelaine Magazine, Leamington District Memorial Hospital was included in an article entitled “Great Canadian Hospitals.” The survey looked at 1,900 institutions across the nation, and Leamington was identified as one of 330 best hospitals in Canada. The top marks the Hospital received were based on their full three-year accreditation status.
Things were not ideal in the parking lot, however. A lack of spaces, a faulty gate system and reluctance on the part of some to accept the paid system, created an uncomfortable situation for staff, patients and neighbours. The Board responded to the complaints by planning an expansion to accommodate more vehicles, and providing a manned tollbooth to prevent further frustration.
A multi-year, multi-phase Master Plan was designed in 1993. It called for a reorganization of the hospital’s layout to accommodate changes in the delivery of health care. The main focus was to increase outpatient services, as directed by the Ministry of Health, and the goal was to create a more efficient, patient friendly method of delivering those services. The plan called for a major project in each of the following six years. The first phase involved improving the parking facilities and creating a new front entrance complete with a wheel-chair accessible ramp. Two South (previously the paediatric ward) was re-opened, and modified to house a four-bed ICU along with a 15-bed medical-surgical “stepdown unit.” Future phases introduced such outpatient services as cardiopulmonary, respiratory and physiotherapy. Other clinics, including urology, dermatology, orthopedics, paediatrics, ophthalmology and oncology, were established and staffed by specialists from Windsor.
Midway through the year, the Social Contract Act came into effect and the hospital was put under even more pressure to cut costs. The management structure was reviewed and subsequently several departments were amalgamated. Further cost-cutting measures included shutting down a medical-surgical unit.
When an agreement was reached with Southwest Emergency Services of Windsor, 24-hour, on-site medical coverage of the ER was finally achieved. The new service commenced January 1, 1994, and was the envy of other non-urban hospitals that struggled to provide similar coverage.
Despite flat-line government funding, the hospital staff continued to provide outstanding service. The Obstetrics department ranked number one among participating hospitals in Essex County in a Ministry of Health report entitled “Review of Maternal and Newborn Services in Ontario.” Leamington was recognized for its high quality of care, educational programs and comfortable facilities. The report, released in November 1994, rated 144 hospitals across Ontario based on their ability to deliver family-centred care. Leamington scored 99 out of a possible 114 points. The overall provincial average was 92. The addition of a second Parker Tub and the development of birthing rooms earned the department top marks from both the Ministry and the moms-to-be.
Over the years, the medical staff has created a unique relationship with the patients they serve. The nursing staff, being particularly sensitive to their needs, was responsible for initiating several programs to improve their stay. In 1995, a serenity room was developed by nurses who felt terminal patients deserved more pleasant, home-like surroundings in which to spend their final days. They volunteered their time to organize and decorate a private room with a special room for the family attached. The family room, equipped with a couch, end tables and a coffee maker, accommodated the needs of the family - giving them some space without forcing them to leave their loved one’s side.
From a Ministry standpoint, the hospital’s level of efficiency was determined by the patient’s length of stay. Over time, the medical staff therefore strove to get patients out of the hospital sooner, with the intention of freeing up beds for more urgent use. This endeavour was accomplished through a partnership between the VON, family physicians, and the hospital’s supply processing distribution (SPD) department. A home care assessment team determined the type of care required, and the VON carried out the duties. Along with restocking medical supplies for use within the hospital, the SPD department assembled medical supply kits for more than 500 residents receiving home care. Although the home care program had been around since the late 60s, its services were even more vital in the leaner 90s.
Under the chairmanship of John Sawatzky, the Leamington District Memorial Hospital Foundation released its first report in 1995. The Foundation operated under its own board of directors and dispersed the money it raised in the form of grants. The Foundation created two separate funds - one for current capital needs, and the other for long-term investment. The goal of the Endowment Fund was to ensure long-term financial stability. Some of the fundraising activities included an annual Gala dinner and dance, a golf tournament, fun run and mass-mailing campaigns. In 1996, the Foundation introduced Nevada tickets to its fundraising roster.
When Chief Executive Officer, Warren Chant came on board February 6, 1996, the hospital was down to 88 beds, and there was great fear the Health Services Restructuring Commission was going to sweep through the region and shut Leamington Hospital down. Shortly after, Leamington signed the Essex County Hospital Strategic Planning Partnership Agreement with Hôtel-Dieu Grace and Windsor Regional Hospitals and the Essex County District Health Council. The basic premise of the strategic plan for Leamington was recognizing its unique contribution and determining its role in relation to its urban associates. It was concluded that the small rural hospital was better able to serve its community in terms of sensitivity of needs, and was adequately equipped to deliver quality service and personal care.
None the less, the community was justifiably nervous. The Commission was scheduled to visit within the year and no one could predict its verdict. Chant took a strong stand and embarked on a mission to develop a strategic plan to save Leamington from the Commission’s axe. The process involved consulting individuals and organizations to discover what they believed Leamington Hospital should offer. “We literally asked every single person who wanted to give us an idea in the entire county,” said Chant of the huge undertaking in which hundreds were polled for their input. The result was a strategic document supported by the general public, regional health care partners, all the way up to the Ministry. “They actually lifted words from our strategic plan,” said Chant of the Commission’s direct order to keep Leamington District Memorial Hospital alive. The Hospital received direction from the Minister of Health and the Health Services Restructuring Commission to “continue as a full service, primary and secondary care community hospital.” Chant and Board Chairman Melchior (Mel) Pace were praised by their peers for their leadership, vision, and ability to present a good case. “They (the government) just won’t write you a cheque because you gave them a really nice sob-story," said Terry Sims, a board member at the time.
“I was told the Restructuring commission wanted responsible local solutions,” said Chant. “The strategic plan could not have been more responsible because no one was against it.”
By the time he had finished his first year, two other agreements had been signed. The Essex County Community and Hospitals Sectors Planning Partnership was an expansion of the initial agreement between the three hospitals and the Essex County District Health Council. It was extended to include the Essex County Medical Society, the VON, the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Hospice of Windsor. The second agreement, the South Essex Community Health Partnership, provided Leamington residents with enhanced and more responsive services. The South Essex Partnership was one of the first collaborative efforts in the province to include the hospital, long term care, community health, social agencies and the primary care physician.
Chant’s main focus was ensuring quality and efficiency were equally maintained. “It would be irresponsible not to implement the most efficient system,” he said. The money he helped save the hospital through efficient management was used to launch many new programs that previously did not exist. The various programs have served the community well.
Leamington Hospital may not get its fair share of government funding, however, it can never be stated that the hospital suffers from a lack of community support.
In November of ‘96, residents responded quickly to the threat of the ER closing. After having taken so long to attain 24-hour service, the Hospital faced the loss of round-the-clock physician coverage. “I was handed a 10,000 signature petition,” said Chant. “We didn’t even have to go out and ask for help.” The petition, circulated by residents John and Ann Saris, caught the attention of Jim Wilson, former Minister of Health. That, and the creative efforts and negotiating skills both Chant and Chief of Staff, Dr. Robert Page, led to Southern Ontario’s first alternate payment plan for emergency physicians. The plan, now used by some 80 hospitals across the province, was approved by the Ministry to pay attending physicians an hourly rate when performing emergency duties. With the country’s proportionately highest population of retired people (second only to Victoria B.C.), hospital officials knew that in an emergency, driving to Windsor was not an option. Leamington’s 24-hour ER service was badly shaken when Southwest Emergency Services of Windsor revoked their services. Dr. Page was later honoured by the government and the Ontario Hospital Association for his “innovative and compassionate” crusade to keep the ER open. On top of his already busy schedule, he obtained extra training and then put his own name on the roster for ER coverage.
Another hiccup occurred during the same period, when area doctors threatened to withdraw their hospital privileges over a dispute with the Ministry over salary capping and clawbacks. The Hospital was concerned that operations would be hampered, as family physicians made up the largest group of doctors providing anaethetic services in the facility.
The Foundation set a goal to raise $500,000 for a Nuclear Medicine Program early in 1997. The diagnostic testing equipment was deemed crucial to the health of the community. Wheatley resident Larry McDonald presided as skate-a-thon chairman, and with the help of vice-chairmen Grant Bowman and Jim Reid, raised a considerable amount of money towards a Nuclear Medical Scanner. By March of ‘98, the hospital had already received $248,000 from three area skate-a-thons, and $30,000 from the annual Gala dance. “We raised $250,000 in just six weeks,” said Chant. "That will tell you the kind of support we get from the community.” The Nuclear Medicine Program was introduced in June of 1988. The Together in Caring Campaign, a $40 million capital needs crusade to provide the three area hospitals with restructuring funds, was launched in 1997. In a letter to the Leamington Post, the hospital set out to explain some of the changes that were taking place in the health care system. Above all, it stated that the changes would be sure to create a greater dependency on the community to help provide funding. “We will work with the community so we can face these challenges together,” said Chant, vowing to keep the community and donors well informed about the many ways to help support their hospital.
In the same year, the hospital cared for two per cent more in-patients, all the while dealing with a four per cent reduction in funding. In 1998, an expanded Rehabilitation Clinic relocated to the Sherk Community Sports Centre, in affiliation with the Municipality of Leamington and the Canadian Back Institute. The staff moved confidently and creatively into the final years of the century.
It’s been said that necessity is the key to invention and at Leamington Hospital, staff members have learned that a hefty dose of creativity goes a long way. Having been forced to deal with a lack of anaesthetic coverage for almost 20 years, doctors in the maternity ward had to develop an alternative pain management program. The surprising result was a highly regarded “natural” system that caught the attention of many interested parents-to-be, and led to a rise in admissions, even from outside the district Today, Leamington doctors deliver on average 550 babies a year.
Warren Chant was also committed to keep everyone from the housekeeping staff up to the physicians keenly aware of the hospital’s direction. He believed that if each individual knew their role, they could carry out their duties with greater efficiency. He believed the teamwork at Leamington Hospital was outstanding and patients genuinely noticed the quality of care delivered. “I have received so many letters commenting on the care that people receive,” said Chant. “Our reputation has been growing because of the service we provide and the public report card has confirmed that.” In 1999, a patient satisfaction survey proved that patients at Leamington Hospital were generally satisfied, and the comments were used to further improve the quality of care and services where needed.
Said Terry Sims: “In all honesty, the number of complaints we hear are extremely small in comparison to the amount of praise that we get. For a small hospital that has struggled along with all the issues in health care with all the other hospitals in the province we’re really proud of it.”
Chant’s adherence to efficient practices was instrumental in the hospital receiving a one half million dollar budget increase. “It was the best Christmas gift we got,” he said. The Ministry allotted $196 million for hospital budget boosting, and Leamington received a higher share amount in proportion to their budget, making them the envy of most hospitals. Chant believed the hospital’s achieved level of efficiency was recognized by the Ministry.
When the Ministry approved plans for a $7.3 million capital construction program, it was clear that the strategic plan had made an impression, providing a clear vision to both hospital staff and the Ministry. While the Ministry agreed to support 70 per cent of the costs through grants, the hospital had to raise 30 per cent of the funds locally. “The Together in Caring Campaign” will contribute the majority of local funding required.
Today, the hospital has a very different face than it did 50 years ago. Perhaps its age shows on the outside, but its soul is as vibrant as ever.
While the activities of the members of the Hospital Auxiliary have experienced certain changes - they’ve gone from hosting garden teas to running Bingos - their purpose remains the same: “To assist the hospital financially and in any way that may be helpful and desirable.” Their day-to-day duties have become more hands-on, working directly with the patients and their family members to provide service with a personal touch. They continue to raise funds - between $50,000 and $70,000 annually - and honour an equipment list prepared by the staff. “We try to find out what they really need and buy them what they really want,” said Betty Brown, current Auxiliary President. After working at the hospital for 21 years, Brown was originally recruited by the Auxiliary to sell Break Open tickets. Over the years, working as a volunteer has kept “her happy.”
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While the future of Leamington District Memorial Hospital has yet to unfold, plans have been drawn, and directions written. The future of health care services will undoubtedly depend on how much support hospitals receive from both the government and the community. If the past 50 years is any indication of how much the hospital means to this community, it would appear the people plan to support it through thick and thin.
According to President & CEO, Warren Chant, the challenges that lay ahead are meeting the public’s expectations for quick and efficient service, and keeping abreast of the changes in technology. “The public is more knowledgeable and sophisticated,” he said. With the introduction of the Internet, people are able to access medical information on various diseases and courses of treatment, and ask more specific questions than ever before. Chant believes that access to information, as well as the ability to interact over the Internet, will “totally change health care providers’ relationships with patients.”
Over the next three years, the hospital will undergo the largest expansion in its history. Developed under the “common sense” leadership of Past Board Chairman, Peter Epp, the $7.3 million project will lead to greater efficiency in health care delivery. The project will include the enhancement of ER space and services, the construction of a “true” outpatient facility, and the renovation and consolidation of the complex continuing care and rehabilitation care facilities. As a result of displacement, the cafeteria and food services will be relocated to Level 1. Cardiopulmonary services will be renovated as well.
But even as the hospital gets ready to break ground, the Board and administration are already thinking ahead - looking to the future needs and coming up with solutions before it’s too late. “Essex County is ahead in restructuring,” said Chant. “We already know our future is building and improving, but we can also do a lot of important things like integrating our health system - not only with three hospitals but with the long term and home care sector.” Chant's vision for Leamington Hospital’s future is based on three premises. The first involves the major construction project, which will improve the staff’s ability to do their job. The second is opening the doors to new technology, with an emphasis on keeping up with the latest diagnostic tools and taking advantage of the emerging world of e-commerce. The third, and most important, is the delivery of services by a fully integrated network of health care professionals. As it has been since 1996, achieving high quality standards will continue to be the number one priority of the entire staff at Leamington District Memorial Hospital.
The hospital family and its supporters are proud of the hospital’s past and the gains made over the years. As a result of their hard work, dedication and faith, Leamington District Memorial Hospital will move into the new millennium stronger and more focused than ever.
Board Chairman, Terry Sims, who was a member of the Board for years, said it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride at times. “We really do feel positive. We know there will be lots of challenges ahead, but our future is looking bright.”
History researched and written
By Mary-Ann Stark.
2012 and Beyond (Comming Soon)
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