St. Joseph's Hospital board optimistic after period of controversy

It's been a year of challenge and controversy at St. Joseph's General Hospital, but during the hospital's annual general meeting last week, board members were feeling pretty positive.

Board chair Ron Philip and hospital CEO and president Michael Pontus both spoke about how challenging the past year has been with the creation of the transitional care unit and with non-accreditation, but they were also positive about the direction in which St. Joseph's has been heading.

"The steps taken, though controversial, have been validated, and recoveries required were achieved," said Philip. "St. Joseph's remains the fine facility that it has always been."

Philip commended "the extensive effort by staff" but noted the hospital ended up paying a price, as less opportunity and fewer resources were available to focus on accreditation.

"Loss of key staff and insufficient time to prepare meant a non-accreditation status in November," he said. "However, by this time, the staff was able to refocus, renew their energy in accreditation, and by the time of the focused visit in May, achieved a full compliance with the visit requirements, and accreditation was restored."

St. Joseph's 98th year was a busy one, noted Pontus.

"Strong initiatives were pursued and achieved, difficulties addressed and resolved, if not at first, then the second time around," he said. "It certainly was a year of controversy, concern and public comment, but in the end, the facts prove out that the decisions were correct and were taken in as timely a manner as possible."

"As an organization, St. Joseph's does tremendous things," he added. "In the next year, you will see again other initiatives, currently underway, come to fruition, and they will make you proud of the current positions we took in order to achieve those."

In his annual report, Dr. Des Konway, president of the medical staff, noted that 2010-11 has been another year of many changes for St. Joseph's.

According to Konway, the transitional unit has been quite successful.

"The statistics are indicating that more people have been getting home with this transition unit than had been previously," he said. "A number of people have been reactivated so that they were in better condition going to nursing homes or going home than they had been previously."

Combining the medical and surgical unit in the fall of 2010 initially had many struggles, noted Konway.

"A number of staffing issues need to be worked through," he said. "There continued to be some ongoing concerns from staff and physicians, but, overall, things are running more effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, the ongoing bed shortages continue to exist, with significant numbers of patients held in overflow units, as well as backing up in emergency room beds."

In terms of the new hospital, there is ongoing discussion on the configuration of the building, but it will have to be a similar configuration to what they have in Campbell River, noted Konway.

"There are ongoing concerns from the medical staff as far as how the configuration of the hospital will work," he said. "There has not been much further discussion on what is actually going to be within this hospital, as far as services.

"There is still no firm commitment on how many surgeons would be within their respective fields within this new facility or if the plan would be to continue with status quo as far as having to transfer patients to Campbell River. This certainly raises a number of concerns for the medical staff."

The medical staff at St. Joseph's is also raising questions about the decision to relocate psychiatry services to Campbell River, according to Konway.

Bishop Richard Gagnon of the Diocese of Victoria noted that along with challenges, the past year has been one of opportunities.

"The challenges have been professionally and well met," he said. "We face a future of challenges and also opportunities, and I'm very confident in the quality of our community and this hospital."

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