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Editorial: Urgent-care centers a necessity in Niagara

Posted: November 8, 2019

(November 05, 2019)

By: Kris Dube, St. Catharines Standard

Even if it’s only to keep wait times within reasonable limits in Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, urgent-care centres in Fort Erie and Port Colborne must be kept open.


That’s what the Ontario Health Coalition calls Niagara Health’s plan to close urgent-care centres in Fort Erie and Port Colborne after a new hospital opens in Niagara Falls, which is tentatively set to happen in 2026.

But is it? We think so.

Some facts are undeniable, such as the need to control the amount of money we spend to fund our health-care system.

In 2018 it cost $527,859,230 to run Niagara Health — salaries, benefits, supplies for surgeries and patient care, drugs, leases. That’s more than $1,160 for every person living in Niagara.

Last year across Canada, $253 billion was spent on health care, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information.

Providing the kind of public-health system Canadians demand costs big, big money.

It’s also true that technological advances in health care mean far more care can be provided remotely from a large, well-staffed central hospital than ever before.

In most industries, all that would make for a strong argument in favour of centralization and cost-control. The accountants would be satisfied.

But health care is not your typical industry — it’s about mending, not manufacturing. It deals in patients, not customers.

That’s why these urgent-care centres in Port Colborne and Fort Erie must be kept open.

It likely makes sense to move them out of the aging, cramped hospitals they are housed in. Newer, more efficient buildings with lower overhead and upkeep costs would make them financially more viable.

Cases that require more complicated care have already been diverted from those centres anyway. Ambulances regularly bypass the facilities in Fort Erie and Port Colborne to bring patients to the larger centres in Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines where they can receive more specialized care.

That leaves the broken bones, cuts, ear aches and the like to be treated at urgent care, which is where they belong.

The larger hospitals already treat their own local residents for many of those cases — and those three emergency departments deal with wait times longer than most other parts of Ontario.

From April 2018 to March 2019, Niagara Health reports the Port Colborne site treated 22,206 patients while Fort Erie handled 18,996 visitors.

In that same period, Niagara Falls saw 46,996 visits, St. Catharines 74,843 and Welland 31,680.

It makes no sense to burden the larger ERs with another 40,000-plus visits for minor cases that could be treated elsewhere.

Under that scenario, lengthy wait times would only get longer and longer.

Fort Erie and Port Colborne are both growing communities. People are moving in believing they will continue to have access to at least some form of local health care.

Seven years from now, more residents will mean more patients requiring urgent or emergency care.

Private walk-in clinics can handle some of the lesser cases, but they don’t have the facilities or staff to match what urgent cares in Fort Erie and Port Colborne provide.

Those numbers are undeniable, too. However, they don’t take into account the human factor.

People in Fort Erie and Port Colborne pay taxes just like those in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls and Welland do. They’re already being forced to drive as far as 40 kilometres for treatment or visits at one of the three large hospitals.

Niagara is a big region without the population to match. A lot of it is rural with much open space separating the municipalities.

Even if it’s only to keep wait times within reasonable limits in Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, urgent-care centres in Fort Erie and Port Colborne must be kept open.

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