BGH won't do without babies


 (Photo by Darcy Cheek)

For a local lesson on social media's role in civic discourse, we now have the current fears over the future of the BGH maternity ward.

In a word, it plays the role of accelerant.

The ready availability of Twitter and Facebook has given hospital insiders with potentially Earth-shattering news the ability to scatter that news far and wide in a short time.

And so, if indeed BGH management presented staff with a fiscal ultimatum on Wednesday, hoping to scare some people into accepting deep cuts a few weeks down the line, it found itself with a very different result, barely a day later.

News of the potential closure of the maternal-child unit spread over social media Wednesday evening, flowed into the news media (yours truly included) on Thursday and, by Thursday evening, resulted in a “Save Brockville General Hospital Maternity Unit” Facebook page, which by late Friday morning had 111 likes.

It's an object lesson on how matters management expects to remain internal can quickly and easily become external (and, we may or may not find out, exaggerated).

As a result, one may expect the entire concept of an “internal matter” to change over time to adapt to this new reality.

As well as a case study in social media, this story is an object lesson on the importance of BGH to the community.

Even without social media as an accelerant, these fears over the mat ward would have hit the public eventually, with the same result: a campaign against its closure.

The hospital is a key part of what allows Brockville to conceive of itself as a city. In the same way, the maternity ward is a key part of what makes Brockville a credible city.

Without it, how can we credibly try to attract young families here? How, for that matter, can we bring in new employers if their future employees will know they have to travel out of town to have babies?

Were this a private sector matter, such things would not factor into the equation. It would be about, as Cathy Cassidy-Gifford says, demographics, service volumes and the bottom line.

But BGH is not a private company, and so decisions of this nature (if and when it comes to that) will have to be made after considering more than the fiscal dimension.

The relationship, after all, is reciprocal. Brockville needs BGH in order to remain a credible city, but BGH needs Brockville and the surrounding area as a constant source of philanthropy to top up insufficient provincial funding.

The near future will tell whether the threat to the maternal-child unit is or was real.

And if it was, one can only assume the prospect of lasting damage to that philanthropic relationship will be enough of a deterrent to making our moms in labour hit the highway.