St. Martha’s campaign

Strait Area facing “tsunami” in health care needs -- Steve Smith

Campaign targets 5000 households for support

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – “If we can’t replace equipment, we lose doctors.” That’s the simple message campaign chair Steve Smith says is behind a $20 million campaign for St. Martha’s Regional Hospital.

The hospital -- serving Guysborough, Antigonish, Richmond and Inverness counties -- has an annual budget over $90 million, but only received $37,000 from the province last year for capital costs.

“So we’re on our own,” Smith said in a recent interview with The Journal.

St. Martha’s Hospital Foundation had an endowment of $3.5 million and the current campaign, called “The time is now”, aims to raise that amount to $20 million.

“That’s definitely not enough, but it’s a good goal,” said Smith. “We have a serious problem down here.”

Modern equipment is needed to attract and keep specialists and other staff, he said. To lose a specialist is to lose $1 million out of the local economy. “Because it’s not just their salary, it’s also the team around them.”

Specialists have their choice of where to go, he added, and “they are not trained on this old equipment.”

St. Martha’s is not alone in facing financial challenges, but it has lagged behind other hospitals in its endowment. The Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, for example, is about the same size as St. Martha’s but has more than $43 million in its endowment.

“They’ll attract their doctors,” said Smith. “We are playing big time catch up.”

The key to success is many people giving a little, said Smith. “If everyone just gives a little bit…Most people who could afford to give $30 a month or $50 a month, which only costs you really have off that because of the way CRA works, so a dollar a day, that’s really 50 cents a day. If we can get enough people doing that, we’ve got it solved. The challenge is to get people to do it.”

The campaign hopes to get 5,000 of the 15,000 households in the four counties supporting the campaign. About 600 households have signed on so far and the campaign has raised $8 million.

Smith points out that demands on St. Martha’s are going to increase substantially in the coming years due to our aging population.

“People don’t realize what’s coming at us,” said Smith. “If you look, we have a little less than 50,000 people in the four counties, and 5900 are over 75 years old. In 10 years time there will be 11,000 over 75.”

Smith said he calls the coming demographic challenge a tsunami, “because you can’t stop it...The only way we can hope to deal with it is with the most modern equipment available and the best technology.”

He said we all need to “wake up” to this challenge, and tackle it, or “get used to driving to Sydney or Halifax and having even longer wait times.”

More than 75 per cent of the use of St. Martha’s, excluding outpatient services, is from Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness counties. In the fall, campaign envelopes were sent to every household in the four counties. Envelopes are also available at municipal offices. Smith said the campaign is encouraging five-year pledges. Another mailing is planned for May.

“I feel that the best donation I had yet was from this little old lady who sent in her form saying she can’t forward anything, but she gave $5 a month for five years. That’s the best donation we’ve gotten yet.”

Smith said the success of the campaign is not about the amount someone can give, it’s about a high level of participation.

The Strait Area no longer has its own health authority, with the nine regional authorities having been replaced by one provincial authority based in Halifax. “We’ve got to fight to keep everything we have,” said Smith.

“Once we have 5000 households we will get our power back...We don’t even have anyone on the provincial board. The only way we are going to have our voice is to have people behind their hospital.”