Rainycrest board’s decisions draw praise

Last Wednesday’s decisions by Rainycrest’s board of management to pursue negotiations towards an amalgamation with Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., and to seek help from the province on running the home, have been greeted with positive remarks from local citizens.
“I think it’s the right decision. I think they need to exhaust all efforts to try and do something with Riverside before they even consider Extendicare,” said Mark Kowalchuk, whose father is a resident at Rainycrest.
Kowalchuk has been a vocal opponent to the board’s proposal to seek a private management company, such as Extendicare, to run the home.
“Their primary goal is profit,” he said of private health care companies.
Since the summer, the board has sought proposals from various private corporations, as well as Riverside, to determine the best option for running the home.
Rainycrest is projecting a deficit of nearly $300,000 by the end of this year.
The board’s proposal was to seek a private company to run the home on an interim basis.
At a public board meeting Nov. 30, Rainycrest staff, local municipal leaders, family members of the home’s residents, and concerned citizens all voiced opposition to having a private company manage the home—even on an interim basis.
Then last Wednesday, the board voted during a closed-door meeting to pursue negotiations with Riverside and to seek help from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in the management of the home.
“We want the ministry to make some suggestions on how we can improve the management, if it can be done even better yet for the residents of the facility,” said board chair Dennis Brown, who also is the mayor of Atikokan.
“We’re trying constantly to have quality health care for the residents,” he stressed. “We would like the ministry to help provide us with some guidance.”
Mayor Brown said it was for this same reason the board had sought information from private health-care companies like Extendicare.
“That’s why we were looking at Extendicare—to help with the management of Rainycrest. Right now we’ve put that idea aside,” he added.
Fort Frances resident Gordon McTaggart said he also is pleased with the direction the board is taking.
“I think it’s a very good move to seriously investigate a co-operation with the hospital because they have to co-operate on other things. Why not this?” he asked.
“It may not be the solution, but it should at least be investigated seriously,” he noted, adding a private corporation only should be pursued as a last resort.
“I’m glad they did the right thing,” echoed Lorelei Caldwell, spokesperson for CUPE Local 65, which represents much of the staff at Rainycrest.
Caldwell has worked at the home for 20 years.
“The bottom line is the residents,” she said. “What they haven’t done is ask the residents. They told them what they were planning on doing. They didn’t ask. That concerns me.”
Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk, who also sits on the Rainycrest board, said that while he is pleased with the decisions made by the board last week, it does not mean the option of seeking the services of a private management company is off the table.
“Our preferred option is Riverside,” Mayor Onichuk asserted after the meeting. “But that’s not going to stop the board from doing what we need to do to make sure resident care is at the top of the list.
“We’re keeping all the options open because there’s nothing for sure in dealing with the Riverside situation,” he noted.
One of the problems with seeking a partnership with Riverside, said Mayor Onichuk, is the time it would take to arrange.
“What do we do in the interim? We’ve got some serious problems that we need addressed and we’ll do whatever we have to do to get them corrected,” he vowed.
“Sometimes the quick fix isn’t always the best fix,” Kowalchuk noted. “Rainycrest has to be run in a business-like fashion, but it doesn’t have to be run as a business.”
He also said the time is a variable that can be changed—if the political will is there. “I think if the urge is there to make this happen, it’ll happen a lot sooner,” Kowalchuk reasoned.
McTaggart said the time would be worth spent, if it meant avoiding privatization in any form. “Isn’t it worthwhile taking another couple of years to do it right?” he asked.
Mayor Onichuk noted the ministry itself uses consultants from the private sector.
“The reality is that the ministry may come in and do their own request for proposals and send somebody in like they did before from the private sector,” he said.
When Rainycrest was put into enforcement by the ministry last year, the province sent an individual from the private sector to get the home running according to standards, he explained.
“The problem the board is having is it seems to be slipping back,” Mayor Onichuk said. “The issues that we thought were being dealt with and corrected, that people were being educated on, we’re slipping back once again.
“And we don’t want to see resident care deteriorate any more than it is,” he stressed. “First and foremost is the care of the residents.”
Kowalchuk’s father has been a resident at Rainycrest since August and he’s very happy with the care his father has received. But he’s concerned that level of care could drop if a private firm took over management of the home.
“We need to be providing the same or better services, not reducing it,” he charged. “To be jeopardizing their well-being for somebody to make a profit—that’s not good.
“They deserve better than that.”
“I would hate to see services slashed and cut to the residents. That’s their home,” Caldwell agreed.
And while the staff is pleased with the board’s decision to pursue negotiations with Riverside, she said the issue is not off the radar.
“We’re going to keep an eye on everything,” she pledged.
Kowalchuk continues to be active on the issue, too. He spoke at the public board meeting Nov. 30, he has written letters to the board, to town council, and to the Times regarding the issue, and attended his first Family and Friends Advisory Council meeting at Rainycrest on Monday evening.
“I know if the roles were reversed, he’d be doing this for me,” Kowalchuk said of his father.
Kowalchuk also said he was pleased the board held a public meeting two weeks ago to hear the public’s concerns. “Had it not been open, where would we have been today?” he wondered.
He said the board should be more forthcoming with details of their talks.
“The public’s been in the dark about any of these discussions with Riverside or with whomever,” Kowalchuk argued. “How are we to make a judgment one way or the other when we’re in the dark?”
The board’s regular monthly meetings generally are open to the public, but it has held two special meetings in recent months that were in-camera—one on Nov. 9 and another last Wednesday (Dec. 8).
The board’s next regular meeting tentatively is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 28.