Two heavy hitters in London are fighting the closing of the city’s Cardiac Fitness Institute, one a former hospital board chair, the other a veteran politician who was instrumental in the centre’s creation.
Orlando Zamprogna was long a force on London city council, but it was in his day job as a vice-president of Victoria Hospital that he says he persuaded the future Parkwood Institute to give up buildings the hospital would later use to prevent death and disease.
“Prevention not only helps health, it reduces costs,” Zamprogna said Wednesday.
If London Health Sciences Centre follows through on plans to close the fitness institute, patients will be left to manage their own care, and that’s a combination that will lead to deadly results, he said.
Before the institute opened to patients in 1981, there was a program for seniors that lacked medical supervision and was conducted at the running track at Western University. Zamprogna worked there at the time and could see the fallout from his office window.
“I personally saw people double over on the track,” he said.
Rather than place the care of 1,400 patients at risk to save a paltry $150,000 – what the hospital spends each year on the institute, with an equal amount raised through donations – administrators should look to thin their own ranks, he said.
Zamprogna has been a patient for five years at the institute, which provides medical care, an exercise facility and counselling to patients recovering from heart attacks or surgery or whose cardiac conditions puts them at higher risk.
Former hospital chair board and retired local radio legend Bill Brady has been a patient there for a decade.
“This has become more about money then the well-being and longevity of patients,” said Brady, who once chaired the Victoria Hospital board and still serves as a volunteer at University Hospital.
While St. Joseph’s Health Care offers cardiac rehab too, each patient gets care for six months – and that makes no sense for cardiac patients who need a lifetime of help to avoid a second and potentially deadly heart attack, he said.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Brady said. “(The hospital) should reverse its decision.”
Stuart daCosta, who has attended the institute for 18 years, is blunt: “I’m a veteran. I’m 93 years old. I served in Italy and (North) Africa and I’m a little bit pissed off.”
While officials at LHSC say patients can still seek exercise at private gyms, that’s not an affordable option for many patients, daCosta said.
“They’re more concerned about their bloody, high-paid administrators,” he said.
The decision drew political heat from local MPPs with one eye to health care and another to the provincial election in June.
“The last thing our city needs is more cuts to health care,” said London West MPP Peggy Sattler. “But this week, heart patients and their families are upset and worried to hear that the Cardiac Fitness Institute at London Health Sciences Centre is going to be shut down, forcing people to wait longer for the life-saving rehab care they need – which is a risk to their health that no one should have to take.”
“Families in London are tired of being ignored by Wynne and her Liberal government,” said London-Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong. “We are calling on Kathleen Wynne to immediately save the Cardiac Fitness Institute and start undoing the damage.”
That was also the call from Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek, the MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London: “It’s tragic that Kathleen Wynne and this Liberal government have created a situation in which scarce healthcare funds need to be spent on bureaucracy and administration, and not on delivering proper care to recovering cardiac patients. After a four-year freeze to hospital budgets imposed by this government, institutions are now having to face difficult decisions like the one at the London Health Sciences Centre.”
Asked about the concerns of patients, a spokesperson for London North Centre MPP – and former health minister – Deb Matthews, said she was unavailable Wednesday to be interviewed. A spokesperson for the Health Ministry wrote to The Free Press that the decision to axe the cardiac institute rests with the hospital.
“Hospitals are independent corporations run by their own boards of directors,” wrote ministry spokesperson Laura Gallant. “Hospital administrators are responsible for the day-to-day management of their hospitals, including services offered . . . We expect all hospitals to make decisions that are focused on providing high quality care to all of the various patients they serve.”
Hospital brass declined interviews this week, but LHSC published a statement on its website from outgoing chief executive Murray Glendining that lays out in detail the case for closing the institute.
“Patient referrals to the Cardiac Fitness Institute (CFI) will end March 2018,” Glendining wrote. “These services do not fall under the mandate of acute care hospitals and LHSC receives no funding to support similar services and can no longer subsidize the costs of the CFI program.”
Hospital officials said they haven’t decided how to use the space. “There has been no final decision made about the use of physical space at this time,” officials wrote.
The head of the institute, cardiologist Larry Patrick, says he was told the hospital plans to convert the space to meeting rooms for administrators.
Officials at St. Joseph’s say they don’t expect to have any problems accommodating additional patients when the Cardiac Fitness Institute closes to new referrals in March. The St. Joe’s program already gets about 95 a month, is able to see the patients within the 30-day window expected by Ontario’s Health Ministry, and adding the 10 or so monthly referrals now going to the institute shouldn’t slow access.
“St. Joseph’s is working with London Health Sciences Centre to ensure all eligible patients will receive cardiac rehab services at St. Joseph’s in a timely fashion. We don’t expect to have any difficulty accepting additional referrals,” a hospital spokesperson wrote Wednesday.
There are key differences between the fitness institute and the rehab program:
- St. Joe’s rehab program provides exercise and diet guidance for six months, the provincial norm, while the fitness institute does so indefinitely.
- St. Joe’s offers stress tests for patients under its care for six months. The fitness institute offers annual stress tests, which bring in between $90,000 and $110,000 from the Health Ministry
- St. Joe’s rehab program is funded by the ministry but LHSC’s fitness institute is not and the hospital says it subsidizes about half of the $300,000 annual cost, with donations covering the balance.
The institute was given a reprieve when Bonnie Adamson served as LHSC’s chief executive, Patrick says. But since she left, he maintains, hospital brass have undermined the services it offers, eliminating its nurse, reducing staff and getting rid of all but five parking spaces reserved for those with disabilities.