A tribute to those who ‘changed the course of health care history’ in Petrolia

Rosanne Orcutt and Norm Sutherland unveil a plaque at Bluewater Health - a tribute to the 11 members of Charlotte's Task Force who worked to keep the Petrolia hospital open and thriving starting in 2004.

There was a time when Rosanne Orcutt wondered if Charlotte’s Task Force really could keep the Petrolia Hospital open.

But today, as Bluewater Health recognized the efforts of the group to keep Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital an important part of rural health care, Orcutt could say the group changed the course of health care history in the community.

In 2004, the 11, Carol Boyd, Ila Campbell, Dana Churchill, Leo Dupuis, Sylvia Fairbank, Mary-Pat Gleeson, Helen Havlik, Jim Monteith, Orcutt, Jane Stevenson and Norm Sutherland, formed Charlotte’s Task Force after it became clear CEEH was in danger of closing.

Ocrutt, who chaired the group, said they planned to work with administration and “we also decided that we will always be informed before we spoke. We will always be rational in discussions. We would be respectful of all, but we would be relentless in our quest to keep CEE Hospital at Bluewater Health open for the residents of Central Lambton.”

Orcutt says the group spent many hours researching data and engaging politicians. And they rallied the community, going to Queen’s Park by the busload, with apples in hand, to prove to the government of the day the importance of Petrolia’s hospital.

And in 2010, when the Erie St. Clair LHIN suggested closing the emergency department, the community came out to help. Orcutt recalls a meeting at LCCVI where 1,400 people came out to send a message.

“They had to move (the meeting) into the cafeteria, and then they had to move into gym C, then it just overflowed everywhere. And it was absolutely phenomenal that people from all over Central Lambton came to that meeting. And it really did send a message; what was here needed to stay here.”

The road was rocky and it took time to build a relationship. “There were many times when we wondered if we were going to be able to do this. But we made that last phone call another phone call, and we just succeeded.”

Orcutt says today, Bluewater Health not only recognizes the importance of CEEH to Lambton, it is investing into the building including planning a multi-million renovation of the site, to make it an active hospital for decades to come.

“They care very much about our hospital,” says Orcutt. “They make sure that the emergency department is staffed and they’re always willing to talk even now when one of us on Charlotte’s Task Force – ones that are around – have a question. We feel very confident, comfortable just phoning one of the executives and we always get a straight answer. Yeah, we work really well together now.”

At the unveiling of a plaque honouring the 11 members of Charlotte’s Task Force Wednesday, that mutual respect was evident.

“We know that our Petrolia hospital has a rich history, one that is based in unrelenting dedication,” said Laurie Zimmer, vice president in charge of rural health at Bluewater Health while paying tribute to the task force.

“We all here today have been so very inspired by their unrelenting spirit and a strong sense of community that defines not only Petrolia, but our hospital culture as well.”

The task force isn’t as active as it used to be, although Orcutt still attends Bluewater Health board meetings virtually to keep up-to-date. And, she says, task force members could pickup the cause at a moments notice if necessary. With other communities, like Minden, Ontario, facing the same crisis Petrolia did nearly 20 years ago, Orcutt knows rural health care is still threatened.

“Rural health is a central to Ontario and we need to keep it. And I know we have to pay for it and I don’t care, we’ll pay for it because it’s that important.”

And she says, the community will stand up to keep it when necessary.

“Let us remember the words of Margaret Mead, a famous cultural anthropologist,” Orcutt told the crowd of about 50 people at the plaque dedication. “She said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ Your Charlotte’s Task Force proved over and over, that those words are true. They work together for hours, days, months, and what turned out to be years to keep our small hospital…

“These 11 people. Carol, Isla, Dana, Leo, Sylvia, Mary Pat, Helen, Jim, Jane and Norm. You really did change the course of healthcare history in our community.”