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Health coalition hopes to continue momentum

Posted: October 13, 2017

(October 11, 2017)

By: Allan Brenner, The Standard

While there’s still room for improvement, Natalie Mehra said the Ontario government seems to be responding to concerns about hospitals across the province.

“I feel hopeful,” said Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, a group of activists working to improve the public health-care system.

For instance, she said plans have been in the works to close Niagara’s smaller hospitals for years.

“The doors of those hospitals are still open,” she added. “As long as the doors are open, there’s always a chance of improving services and so on.”

Hoping to continue that momentum, the Ontario Health Coalition is organizing a series of hearings on health care in communities across the province, with two meetings planned for Niagara this weekend.

Angela Zangari, Niagara Health’s executive vice-president and chief financial officer, said hospital administration will “continue working with and listening to community members, who are important partners in our work to improve access to care and achieve the best possible outcomes and experiences for all Niagara residents.”

“We are fully committed to providing comprehensive health care services in Niagara Falls and Welland and are working towards this goal,” she said.

Mehra said the organization also had a hopeful sign that the Liberal government is listening in late May.

After a “Welland Day of Action” organized by the group at Queen’s Park on May 31, Health Minister Eric Hoskins twice said he would work to keep the hospital open, despite a previous plan to replace it with a single new hospital built in Niagara Falls to replace existing hospitals in both Welland and Niagara Falls.

“I understand the importance of that community hospital to the community and I will do everything I can to work with my ministry and with the community to keep Welland open. That is my commitment,” Hoskins said in the provincial legislature. “That is what we have been working towards.”

Mehra called it “excellent news,” adding that the health coalition sent Hoskins a letter last week, asking for more information about plans to keep Welland hospital open.

“Obviously, if the minister is trying his hardest that means the hospital will stay open. We want to know officially what the plan is,” she said.

“We haven’t pushed it over the top yet, but we have moved collectively. I’m not trying to take all the credit. It’s everyone from the mayors to the community campaign, everyone has definitely pushed the issue and changed the conversation quite a bit. I think there’s hope there.”

Mehra said there are still problems that need to be addressed.

“At this point, Ontario has seen the worst cuts to public hospitals of any jurisdiction we could find,” she said. “We have the fewest beds in the country per capita by far. It’s not even in the ball park.”

By giving people an opportunity to discuss their experiences and concerns about health care during the hearings — including one at Welland Community Wellness Complex at 10 a.m. on Saturday, followed by a second hearing at St. Catharines Public Library at 1 p.m. — Mehra hopes to continue making progress.

The OHC plans to put those stories together in a report that will be presented to the provincial government, along with recommendations.

Mehra said the last time the organization held a series of community hearings, they received 597 submissions that formed the basis of a report with “concrete recommendations” for the province.

“And we stopped the closures. It was very effective. We feel that leading into an election, it could be even more effective,” she said.

“We find that when we’re trying to change public policy the most effective thing we’ve done is to blow some fresh democracy into the room and force the government to have to listen to the people,” Mehra said. 

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