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Community members angry at CKHA plans for Sydenham Campus

Posted: May 9, 2016

(May 9, 2016)

Author: Louis Pin, The Daily News

It’s been a rough week for Natalie Mehra.

As the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, Mehra was in North Bay a day before coming to Wallaceburg, a more-than 600-kilometre drive.

At each stop she’s faced with cuts, disgruntled communities and difficult situations.

And yet the relationship the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance has with the Sydenham Campus ER is, according to Mehra, perhaps the most dysfunctional she’s ever seen.

“It’s immoral and irresponsible,” Mehra said. “I’ve never seen hospital leadership say a hospital is unsafe … I’ve been extremely disturbed to see what the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance has done.”

Mehra was at a Wallaceburg general meeting Monday to discuss the possible redistribution of resources and responsibility between the Sydenham Campus ER and the Health Alliance, in the Chatham-Kent Health System Capital Plan. It would mean Wallaceburg and surrounding communities would be without a 24-hour emergency facility.

Mehra says she’s never experienced a coordinated public campaign to shut down a hospital.

“The Premier and the Health Minister even said there was no intention to close the emergency services,” Mehra said.

Wallaceburg residents at the meeting were clearly frustrated – with the Ontario government, the news media, the LHIN, the Health Alliance, amalgamation, and Chatham proper.

Some were more blunt than others.

“A lot of people in Chatham, they don’t know, don’t care,” said Keith Southern. “We’re killing people with this stupidity. And who goes to shit? … Wallaceburg.”

The meeting and decision comes after the Sydenham Campus ER was reportedly unsafe. Municipal councillor Carmen McGregor, at the meeting, said she wanted to firmly express that the centre is still functional and not unsafe.

“I’d like to dispel the fear … that the emergency centre in this community is unsafe,” McGregor said. “It’s not … it’s not like a small hospital with less staff makes an unsafe environment.”

McGregor pointed out that the current building still has an expiration date, and fixing everything wrong with it would be far more expensive than building an entirely new building altogether.

Still, she said, keeping 24-hour service was essential to Wallaceburg.

“We need to work to keep the services in our community,” McGregor said. “We’ve lost so many basic local services.”

McGregor isn’t the only councillor frustrated about the Health Alliance’s plan. Coun. Jeff Wesley is also opposed to the Capital Plan.

Shirley Roebuck summed up the general feeling at the meeting.

“I don’t believe … this is a smart move,” she said. “This hospital has a role to play. And we even support Chatham and Lambton, whenever they send their patients to our little emergency room.”

“I believe [Wallaceburg] citizens support this hospital,” she added. “And a simple walk-in clinic does not meet the needs of this community.”

McGregor said a publicly supported motion is headed to Chatham-Kent council in the near future.

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