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Health Coalition worried about future of small rural hospitals

Posted: April 26, 2019

David Gough
More from David Gough

Published on: April 26, 2019 | Last Updated: April 26, 2019 8:25 AM EDT

The chair of the Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nation Health Coalition believes that rural hospitals in Petrolia and Wallaceburg will suffer under the health-care cuts being proposed by the Ontario government. File photo/Postmedia Network

Although the Ontario government talks about the future of local rural hospitals in rosy terms, a healthcare advocate is concerned for hospitals like Wallaceburg’s.

And Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nation Health Coalition, said it’s time to worry about small rural hospitals.

In February, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton visited Wallaceburg to announce a $500,000 planning grant to redevelop the hospital. The redevelopment will include expanded ambulance, emergency and outpatient services.

Lori Marshall, president & CEO of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, echoed McNaughton in saying that both the province and the Health Alliance are both committed to the long-term future of the hospital and said the planning grant proves that.

But Roebuck isn’t buying the entire story.

“That sounds great but none of those dollars were for services or for nurses or for anyone,” she said.

“I just don’t believe (Doug) Ford when he says he’s going to save $500 million from OHIP that small rural hospitals are safe,” she added.

Roebuck said hospitals are being run like businesses, and small hospitals are not often seen as being worthy of receiving operating or capital funding.

“I believe that everyone that lives in small places should be worried,” she said, noting her warning includes hospitals like Petrolia’s Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital of Bluewater Health.

“Petrolia fought real hard to keep that hospital, to keep that hospital open, just as Wallaceburg fought hard to keep Sydenham open,” Roebuck said.

Unlike in the past couple decades when communities like Petrolia and Wallaceburg had to fight the decisions of local hospital CEOs, Roebuck said they will now be fighting the Ontario government and the Ministry of Health.

“That’s quite a different fight.”

Speaking at Queen’s Park in March about the Wallaceburg hospital’s future, McNaughton said the government’s commitment will ensure the hospital will serve patients in Wallaceburg, across Chatham-Kent, and Lambton County for generations to come.

The first part of the facility’s modernization program is starting soon, as the province committed $7.4 million in 2018 to construct a new power plant, with work expected to be completed this year.

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