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Death of man awaiting start of Fort Erie forum on health care highlights need for rural services, says health coalition chair

Posted: December 13, 2023

(December 12, 2023)

By: Sarah Ferguson, Fort Erie Post

What was supposed to be an opportunity for community members to share their thoughts on the state of health care turned into an emergency situation.

Just before the Fort Erie meeting on public health care was expected to start, a man in attendance had a medical emergency he did not survive and the meeting was cancelled.

Niagara Health Coalition chair Sue Hotte described the situation as an unfortunate event that highlights the important need for emergency health care in small rural communities.

Originally planned for Nov. 30 at Fort Erie Leisureplex, the meeting was supposed to be an opportunity to hear from local politicians, as well as members of advocacy group Fort Erie Health Care SOS, Niagara Health Coalition and Ontario Health Coalition about community health care.

The goal was to gain public input to help the coalitions and Fort Erie SOS plan their next steps in a fight to ensure health-care services are restored and protected.

“Before the meeting started, one of our members collapsed and hit the back of his head,” Hotte said.

The crowd was asked if there were any medical professionals that could assist.

“We had three nurses in attendance that performed CPR (for 20 minutes) until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics took over and we decided to cancel the meeting.”

It’s Hotte’s understanding that the man’s vital signs were absent by the time paramedics arrived.

He was transported to the nearest site with emergency services, which was Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, about a 30-kilometre drive from the Leisureplex.

In June, Niagara Health announced operating hours at its urgent care centres (UCC) in Fort Erie and Port Colborne would be cut overnight, and patients would be accepted between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. starting July 5.

Since then, Fort Erie SOS and Niagara Health Coalition have been advocating for the restoration of services through rallies, protests and petitions.

Douglas Memorial was previously downgraded to an UCC after the site’s emergency room was closed in September 2009.

In an email, Fort Erie Health Care SOS founder Heather Kelley said the incident that occurred on Nov. 30 must be talked about.

“All levels of government must be held accountable for the lack of emergency health care in small and rural communities,” Kelley said. “Ontario needs to fund and staff our underused public hospital, emergency rooms, operating rooms and patient rooms. Lives are being lost.”

In May, Ontario Health Coalition responded to Bill 60 by launching a provincewide citizen referendum to convince the provincial government not to privatize some health care services under what is known as the Your Health Act.

The bill called for private clinics to provide services, including cataract surgeries, MRIs, CT scans, and hip and knee replacements.

Niagara Health Coalition hosted advanced polls at sites across Niagara leading up to the May 26 and 27 referendums.

“We had over 17,000 votes in our own area that we combined with the 400,000-plus that were collected provincewide,” Kelley said.

Between May and November, hospital advocacy groups, including Fort Erie Health Care SOS, gathered signatures for a petition delivered to the provincial government.

“We sent over 4,000 signatures to Queen’s Park to let the government know we need them to help Niagara Health see the error in their strategic plan,” Kelley said.

“The plan no longer meets the needs of our growing communities and they have left a number of people in our small rural communities without equitable access to urgent or emergency care. This is not acceptable.”

As for the meeting that was supposed to take place, it has been rescheduled for Jan. 11. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Erie Leisureplex at 3 Municipal Dr.