Lakeridge Health responds to Oshawa’s accusations of bias in site selection for new Durham hospital

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Published March 24, 2022 at 11:23 am

Oshawa is determined to push ahead with a campaign to bring the next hospital in Durham Region to the motor city, but they’re not getting much sympathy from the organization making the final decision.

The City was up against bids from Whitby and Pickering to host the next regional hospital but were eliminated from the race in December because their preferred site off Simcoe Street between Ontario Tech University and Highway 407 was less than 10 kilometres from an existing hospital, one of the key criteria is the site selection process.

Oshawa Council cried foul over the verdict and Regional Councillor Brian Nicholson, who called the 10-kilometre criteria “arbitrary,” went as far as accusing Lakeridge Health of playing politics. “I think it’s all politically motivated to benefit a few MPPs,” he said in December, citing Whitby MPP Lorne Coe and Health Minister Christine Elliot, the long-time Whitby representative who now represents Newmarket-Aurora. “This is what happens when you have a process that is run by political people. This has been a mistake from day one.”

Within a month the second competing bid from Pickering – mired in controversy from the start because of its proximity to the Carruthers Creek watershed – was also out of the running, leaving a bid from Whitby for a 160-acre site on land owned by the transportation ministry near Lakeridge Road and Highway 407 as the de facto winning bid.

That prompted Oshawa to demand a detailed explanation from Lakeridge Health and for them to release all three submissions to the public.

Sharon Cochran, who Chairs Lakeridge Health’s Board of Trustees responded by letter late last month saying the 10-kilometre criteria was “one of the most important considerations in the site selection process” and was “overwhelmingly supported” by experts and the community during the consultation phase.

As far as releasing all submissions to the public, Cochran said that is not going to happen.

“The Proposal Call was clear that in order to ensure the fairness of the process, submissions received … would not be publicly released after they were evaluated by the site selection Expert Panel,” she explained. “The intent with keeping submissions confidential was to ensure a fair and unbiased process, free of external influence. Each submission was evaluated by the Panel against the same criteria and scored accordingly.”

Individual proponents are welcome to release their submissions publicly if they so choose, she added.

Several Oshawa councillors expressed concerns that once the new hospital is built Lakeridge Health Oshawa could see a reduction in service as some departments could be transferred to the new site, but Cochran said in her letter there “no plans” to changes the services already in place in Oshawa.

“Our focus remains on becoming a comprehensive regional system of care for Durham Region and delivering high quality care to all patients who come to us. Our service delivery will remain – as it has always been – guided by demand, evidence, as well as growth projections in the communities we serve,” she said. “We routinely re-evaluate how to provide the best possible care and the Ministry expects such planning to occur every seven to 10 years.”

Both Nicholson and fellow councillor John Gray also alleged bias in the process because the 17-member Board of Trustees has five members from Whitby sitting at its table, versus just one from Oshawa.

Cochran, however, didn’t take kindly to the allegation and invited the councillors to review the board’s agendas and minutes if the have concerns with fairness.

“In accordance with best practices in governance, the Board is composed of those with the experience and expertise required to ensure that our hospital maintains high-quality care for all Durham individuals and families … (and) will continue to adhere to the principles of openness and transparency in how it conducts its business.”

The next step for all involved in the process is to look ahead, not behind, Cochran said.

“Our focus is now solely on moving this project forward quickly so it may become a reality,” she said. “The selection of a proposed site is an important step in making a new hospital a reality and we are focused on advancing this work – which we trust that all the municipalities in Durham Region can support.”

Based on evidence and growth projections, Lakeridge Health is planning for inpatient bed growth of almost 1,000 beds to meet projected demand over the next 25 years. And anchoring this plan is the construction of a new acute care hospital.

The letter will be up for discussion at Monday’s Oshawa Council meeting.

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