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Hospital referendum pressed

Posted: April 21, 2016

(April 21, 2016)

By: Allan Benner, The Tribune

A provincewide referendum could make it “politically impossible” to close hospitals, says an Ontario Health Coalition board member.

Doug Allan said a referendum the coalition is planning will “make it so that these cuts, and the threatened closure of the Port Colborne hospital, can be stopped — to make it politically impossible for that to happen.”

Allan, a Toronto area resident, told a group of about 80 people at the Guild Hall in Port Colborne Wednesday night that “saving your hospital will be like a beacon for the rest of the province of what a community can do that stands up for it.”

Niagara Heath Coalition chair Sue Hotte said details about a referendum will be released during a media conference Monday, but the initiative will include ballot boxes set up in public locations in communities across Ontario, such as businesses, municipal offices and physician clinics and workplaces.

Although petitions bearing tens of thousands of signatures submitted to the provincial government in recent years have failed to stop the province’s plans for Niagara hospitals, Hotte said the scope of the referendum should allow it to garner far more response.

Hotte said it will have a profound impact on the provincial government.

Allan said similar provincewide campaigns have had significant impacts in the past, such as stopping health-care privatization plans.

He said the most recent referendum the Ontario coalition organized pertained to allowing private clinics to conduct some hospital surgeries, “and we collected 100,000 votes on an issue that I don’t think is quite as well known as the cuts to our hospitals.”

“This is a much bigger issue, and I think we can get an even bigger vote,” Allan said. “We need to collect the votes, send them off to the legislature, we need to do it collectively right across the province and send a very loud message. I think we can send an extremely loud message in Port Colborne because of the circumstances that we’re looking at here.”

The meeting was organized to discuss the provincial government’s plans to close hospitals in Port Colborne, Welland and Fort Erie and replace them with a single new hospital in Niagara Falls.
Niagara Health System in an e-mail to The Tribune Tuesday said Angela Zangari, executive vice-president and project lead, and NHS president Suzanne Johnston “have been across all NHS sites over the past few weeks sharing the preferred designs for a new south hospital at Lyons Creek and Montrose roads and a new ambulatory care/urgent care and long-term care development in Welland at King and Third streets.

“We believe it is important to share information with our staff, many of whom have been engaged in planning activity for the projects.

“Dr. Johnston is committed to working with staff to discuss planning on a regular basis. In addition she will be continuing to meet with community leaders to plan forward.”

At Wednesday’ night’s coalition meeting, several residents shared concerns about access to health-care services, including Aubrey Foley.

“I don’t want to offend anyone from Welland, but I live in Port Colborne, my hospital is in Port Colborne and this is where it should remain,” the 71-year-old said.

He said his city of 19,000 people has a “deplorable walk-in service for health care.”

“It is not acceptable. There is no reason for it to be the way it is today,” he said, while noting Dunnville, a town of 11,000 people, has a “fully functional hospital with free parking.”

“If Dunnville can do that, we can do this very easily,” Foley said.

Former mayor and regional councillor Bob Saracino said he will do whatever he can to save the Welland hospital, but the community must also work together to keep the urgent care centre running in Port Colborne.

“When it comes to health, we must be one,” he said.

Saracino said health care “is not a privilege, but it is a fundamental right that we have under the Canada Health Act.”

While Hotte said she agrees Niagara Falls needs a new hospital, “it should not be at the expense of people in Port Colborne, Welland, Wainfleet, Pelham — over 94,000 people losing access to hospital services.”

“No way! We need to keep the hospitals open and access to services,” Hotte said.

ABenner@postmedia.com

Twitter: @abenner1

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