Fate of O.R. at Charlotte County Hospital uncertain as only surgeon books off sick

Kate Scott/Courier Dt. Tom Goulding

Operating room’s future uncertain as only surgeon books off sick

Kate Scott/Courier
Dt. Tom Goulding

Kathy Bockus

St. Stephen

Dr. Tom Goulding said age and biology have accomplished what the provincial government and Horizon Health Network couldn’t – possibly close down the operating room at Charlotte County Hospital for good.

The surgeon, who intended to retire within the next two years, said he is ill, and may be facing surgery, and perhaps follow up treatments for his illness.

“I will be out sick in January and I don’t know if I will be returning to work,” stated Goulding, adding his medical condition involves “too much uncertainty at this time.”

“I do not know if the OR will re-open. I personally don’t think it will,” was his dire prediction, adding “the government is probably at the point of saying ‘we told you; it closes’.

“The government is happy to shut everything down and concentrate on big centres. And whether it’s John Ames’ (government) or (David) Alward’s, they’re all working towards the same thing. – trying to get control and cut expenses.

“I do not know what will happen.”

David Alward was the Conservative premier during the previous provincial government.

Earlier this year the government had announced the OR at the CCH would close Aug. 8. However, a public outcry, led by a citizens group known as Concerned Citizens of Charlotte County, voiced opposition to the closure.

It pressured Premier Brian Gallant to intervene with Horizon Health Network. The result was Horizon amending its decision to close the operating room, and instead continue surgeries at CCH which only required local anesthetic.

Horizon and the government also indicated neither were recruiting surgeons to replace Goulding in the wake of his impending retirement, nor were additional nursing staff or anesthesiologists being recruited.

Goulding said his biggest concern is not about the OR closing.

“My biggest concern is hiring GPs (general practitioner doctors) for this area.”

Goulding said he wished the CCCC group “good luck” in its ongoing struggle to keep the OR open and opposing any cutbacks in services at the hospital.

“John Ames has got to see there is a problem,” he said, referring to the local MLA for the riding of Saint Croix.

“Before he tries to think about running again for an election, he’s got things to sort out.”

Goulding said if he needs treatment for his illness he will continue to treat patients in his office for as long he can.

Trudy Higgins, co-chair of CCCC, said the group has requested a meeting with Ames to discuss this new development with Goulding’s illness.

In the letter Higgins said the group requests information on the clinic planned for the third floor of the hospital reiterating “taxpayers have a right to know what this new clinic that is being built on the third floor of the hospital will provide.”

She also asked Ames what progress he and MLA Rick Doucet had made addressing what she described as the staffing crisis” at the CCH.

Higgins and her group have requested a meeting in early January with Ames.

Wednesday morning, Ames confirmed he had received Higgins’ request for a meeting, but said the first confirmation he had of Goulding’s illness was in Tuesday’s edition of The Saint Croix Courier.

He said he’s concerned about Goulding’s state of health and before he commits to yet another meeting with Higgins and CCCC he wants to “wait and see what’s going on with his illness.”

“The ball is in his court.”

Ames suggested if Higgins was truly concerned about the future of the OR, and in light of Dr. Goulding’s illness, now would be the time for her to produce the names CCCC says it has of surgeons willing to work at the hospital in St. Stephen .

He also suggested CCCC should arrange a meeting with the Regional Health Alliance, a group of representatives from municipalities throughout the county, so they could work together.

CCCC is urging the government and Horizon Health to maintain the existing services at the CCH and to recruit surgeons and other staff to continue offering a full service operating room.

Higgins said her group has presented Health Minister Victor Boudreau with a proposal for the options it thinks is reasonable and has requested financial statements as well as a strategic plan in order to establish an independent board to govern the hospital’s operation. She said the government’s response is there is no intention to recruit surgeons nor is there a need for an independent governing board.

Higgins said CCCC representatives met earlier in December with the leaders of the province’s political parties, with the exception of the governing Liberals.

Higgins said she and the group were encouraged by the support and encouragement they received, particularly that of Ted Fleming, the health minister in the former PC government.

“It was very encouraging to me that everything we believe in and are working towards, he could verify and support.”