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Health coalition continuing hospital press

Posted: June 15, 2017

(May 24, 2017)

By: Steve Henschel, Niagara This Week

WELLAND — Despite the $9 billion earmarked for new hospitals in the provincial budget, and the assertion that some of that will be directed to a new Niagara Falls hospital, the fight isn’t over in Welland.

Speaking at a Niagara Health Coalition Save Our Welland Hospital Campaign rally in front of the Welland Hospital last week, Mayor Frank Campion said many are taking the news as a “death sentence” for a full-service hospital in Welland. Under current Niagara Health plans, the hospital is slated to close as a new hospital, replacing the Greater Niagara General Hospital, comes online.

Campion said such predictions of doom are premature, however.

“This is not a time to despair,” said Campion, to the small crowd in attendance. He said a new hospital is justified in Niagara Falls, and, while that may be moving forward it doesn’t mean the Welland Hospital must close. In short, Campion said, the community must continue to push for the Welland Hospital to remain open as a site serving south Niagara’s population of more than 100,000.

“The hospital in Niagara Falls should never be referred to the south Niagara hospital,” said Campion, adding, “this (the Welland Hospital) is a south Niagara hospital.”

The small event served as a precursor to provincial day of action being organized by health coalitions on May 31 at Queen’s Park to save hospitals slated for closure across the province. The Niagara Health Coalition will be organizing a Niagara contingent to press the provincial legislature to halt closures on that day.

Campion urged the crowd not to wane in pressuring the province and pointed out he, and other south Niagara mayors, are still in conversations with the Ministry of Health to protect a full-service hospital in Welland.

“The conversation is still going on,” said Campion.

Currently, Niagara Health plans for a new urgent care centre including ambulatory care services like medical and surgical clinics, dialysis, mental health and addictions, Ontario Breast Screening Program services, and full diagnostics including CT scan, ultrasound and X-ray and a 120-bed long-term-care centre to replace the hospital in Welland. That plan does not include an emergency room however, although the possibility of emergency services is still on the table according to a written statement from Niagara Health president Suzanne Johnston.

“We are committed to evaluating emergency services in Welland and acknowledge the importance of a 24-hour Emergency Department.

As our planning moves forward we will be considering many options including a 24-hour Emergency Department as well as other opportunities like continuing ophthalmology services in Welland,” she said.

The possibility of losing an emergency room has been a primary concern for mayors like Campion, April Jeffs of Wainfleet and John Maloney of Wainfleet as residents in the far-flung reaches of Niagara’s south would have to travel more than 45 minutes in some instances to reach an emergency room should Welland close.

“It’s just way way too far for us to go,” said Jeffs. The Save Our Hospital Campaign has released two reports claiming the future population growth in the area will centre on Welland and that current populations would suffer in terms of equitable access should the Welland site close.

“The logistics demonstrate this without question,” said Henry Miron, a campaign member and retired logistics professional who in 2014 extensively mapped drive times to a new Niagara Falls site.

“We’re growing … 20 years down the road it’s going to be a completely different landscape,” said Campion, adding, “Never give up, I’m never going to give up.”

Welland MPP Cindy Forster added the time to pressure the government is now given a looming 2018 election.

“It’s not dead yet,” said Forster, explaining the closure would devastate the local economy with hundreds of workers losing their jobs.

The Niagara Health Coalition is organizing a bus for individuals hoping to attend the rally in Queen’s Park on May 31. The bus will leave the Welland Market Square at 8 a.m. and return by about 4 p.m. Fore more information email or call health coalition chair Sue Hotte at 905-932-1646. Hotte said that despite the apparent progress in building a new Niagara Falls hospital the Save Our Welland Hospital campaign is still going strong. She was quick to reference a petition of more than 13,000 signatures and over 2,500 signed letters she will deliver next week.

“We have great support,” said Hotte.

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