Municipal support for regional hospitals could offer some benefit

A recent grant request from the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation divided County council as, although the municipality did not offer funding for the regional acute care hospitals this year, some councillors felt it should have.

There’s an argument to be made that municipal tax dollars not be given to hospital projects as those facilities are already funded by upper levels of government and there’s a long established practice of funding for equipment and expansion being raised through philanthropy and fundraising.

Municipalities, after all, are already stretched thin trying to pay for the infrastructure and services their tax dollars are required to pay for, such as ambulance services, roads, a long-term care facility, libraries and museums. Increased budget pressure makes it difficult for them to be looking after any grants, particularly in light of the precedent that may set. There’s also the valid question of donor motivation. With hospitals already out in the community appealing to former patients and others, should municipalities be deciding their ratepayers will donate a second time through taxes? And, also crucial to the hospital’s bottom line, will those grants limit would-be donors from direct gifts, knowing they’ve already been covered through their annual tax bills. That may question may apply both to Kingston and Belleville hospitals that offer local residents important services, but also to the crucially important drive for a new hospital build in the county.

On the other hand, there is a community development value in contributing to strong health care, both within the community and at the regional acute-care level. Ask realtors or economic developers about the first questions they receive from prospective home buyers or business investors and, inevitably, the proximity to a hospital and the quality of care accessible almost immediately come to mind. It seems clear that great facilities and programs attract leading medical staff and there’s an economic value to stating there’s leading-edge diagnostics, cancer care, and heart specialists within a short drive, particularly in rural areas. That doesn’t even account for the spin-off benefit given that hospitals in Picton and neighbouring areas are among the larger employers of local people. There’s probably also a better chance of family doctors locating in a rural area like Prince Edward County within a reasonable drive to a leading hospital centre that houses a medical school.

While the expectation, first and foremost, should be on upper tiers of government to shift to preventative care and to make health services more accessible and affordable for the common taxpayer, there is benefit in municipalities showing support by contributing to health care. It just can’t be a blank cheque or a series of continuously higher requests. Grants must show elements of fairness and of prior planning.

If councillors decide they must be in the health-care delivery business, they should set dedicated budget line items they feel they can reasonably afford — just as council strived to do with its overall granting budget. Hospitals and community support services should receive an equitable opportunity to apply for the funding. Also, County staff should be instructed to meet with health sector stakeholders to collectively determine where their investment provides the most impact without councillors having to guess and play politics. Taxpayers would be better served and there wouldn’t be the same level of difficulty come budget time.

-Adam Bramburger