OPINION: City hospital’s reputation is outdated

George Mathewson

Whenever Sarnians get together and the talk turns to health there’s a good chance someone will trot out a horror story about Bluewater Health.

A common malady misdiagnosed, a loved one left on a hallway bed, a misprescribed med.

“If you want good treatment you gotta go to London,” is practically a mantra in this city.

No one will ever mistake Sarnia’s hospital for the London Health Sciences Centre. Nor should they. London is a major international centre for research and teaching and Sarnia is a small city at the end of the province.

Our city’s hospital was battered by public protests, picketing nurses and doctor revolts a decade ago, which led to a full-blown provincial review and a shake-up of hospital operations in Sarnia. Its reputation was damaged.

But Bluewater Health has come a long way since then, as the latest round of healthcare data bears out.

In order to receive funding, Ontario hospitals are required to post scores on a long list of patient safety measures and report them to the Local Health Integration Network and Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Staff at Bluewater Health once had an appallingly low rate of hand washing before interacting with patients, for example. But according to a ministry website list of Ontario’s 96 large community hospitals, Sarnia and its Petrolia affiliate now rank among the very best at hand hygiene compliance, at 96.15% and 96.69% respectively.

That may seem like a small thing, but to my mind it indicates an attitudinal sea change in basic patient care.

As gruesome as it sounds, the number of people expected to die during or following treatment in hospital is set nationally and adjusted for age, sex and length of stay, with the baseline set at 100.

Sarnia’s survival rate – the mortality ratio – has been rated 96 or lower four years running, which is good.

Emergency room wait times are continuing to fall and virtually all scheduled surgeries are now completed within the recommended timeframes.

Patient satisfaction surveys have soared the past five years and now stand at 76%, which is six percentage points above the provincial average.

And that bitter labour war of a decade ago? Four out of five employees (79.8%) now say Bluewater Health is a good place to work, compared to a provincial average of 73%.

It’s not all good news. Patients with chronic heart and breathing problems have a stubbornly high readmission rate, suggesting a breakdown somewhere between the hospital and community health providers.

And Bluewater Health is inefficient with funding, spending about $500 more per case than allotted.

But according to all the quantifiable indicators, Sarnia’s hospital is a better provider of health than many residents give it credit for.

To review the data yourself, go to bluewaterhealth.ca, click on “performance and accountability” and burrow inward from there.