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LaFLECHE: Do you agree breathing is good?

Posted: April 25, 2016

(April 25, 2016)

By: Grant LaFleche, The Standard

If I have written it once, I have written it a million times — facts matter.

We live in a world so awash in information, there is no excuse to make political decisions in a vacuum of data. Yet it happens constantly.

After all, emotional narratives often have more political mileage than cold facts that fail to comfort the anxious hearts of many.

Consider, for example, the latest initiative to prevent the closure of hospitals in south Niagara by the Ontario Health Coalition and the Niagara Health Coalition.

It is an information train wreck that depends on fears of an eroded health-care system.

Niagara Health System is planning a new hospital, to be located on the Welland/Niagara Falls border, that will replace the aging facilities in both of those cities.

Along with the new hospital, there will be an ambulatory/urgent care facility in Welland that will include dialysis treatment and a breast-screening program.

The NHS planning and consultation process for south Niagara is ongoing.

As has ever been the case in Niagara, even a whiff of change is enough to cause some people to wail and gnash their teeth.

These folks oppose change of almost any sort, preferring to maintain even a lousy status quo. I like to call them CAVE — Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

When the new St. Catharines hospital was being planned, CAVE was out in full force. The location was horrible, they said, and would result in massive traffic jams, blocking ambulance access to the emergency room, which would result in the deaths of patients.

This has never happened, nor has a long list of other potential atrocities predicted by CAVE. But that hasn’t stopped them from pressing on.

The coalition’s latest attempt was unveiled Monday.

The group says it is a holding a provincewide “referendum” on May 28 that will make it “politically impossible” for the province and the NHS to close any Niagara facilities.

There is just a ridiculous amount of silliness to unpack here.

First, this is not a referendum. It’s a petition.

A referendum is an electoral process, with proper access to ballot stations, debates, scrutineers and procedural transparency.

It is improbable the coalitions could pull that off. It would likely require more resources than they could realistically marshal.

Referendums also provide a mandate to the government. This petition will have no binding impact on Queen’s Park, let alone making changes to Niagara’s hospitals “politically impossible.”

Even if the coalition’s petition has some sort of Hogwarts infused power to alter the fabric of reality, does anyone really want health-care change to be impossible?

Are we living in a utopia and no one told me about it?

Then there is the question itself: “Do you agree, that Ontario’s government must stop the cuts to our community hospitals and restore services, funding and staff to meet our communities’ needs for care?”

This deliberately vague blizzard of words is framed in such a way that the only reasonable answer is “yes.”

They might as well have asked “Do you agree that breathing is useful?” or “Do you agree that chimichangas are delicious?”

Only a lunatic, or someone who was raised by wolves and thus never tasted the magic of the chimichanga, could say “no.”

The question makes several leading presumptions. For instance, it’s stating, without evidence, that health-care service in Niagara has declined.

It doesn’t weigh recent changes in the light of evidence, such as patient outcomes. Rather, it plucks at your heart strings.

The Niagara Health Coalition has been up to this sort of tomfoolery before about the retirement of the aged Welland hospital.

A year ago, the group paid $1,500 for a U.K.-based trade union publicist to pen a report blasting NHS plans for Welland. Specifically, John Lister’s report claimed public consultations about Niagara hospitals were “entirely absent.”

As it happens, this claim is entirely false. There was a great a deal of public consultation and more is on the way.

Lister also claimed the new hospital location would put patients in jeopardy due to the “extended journey” to get there from Welland.

Lister should have read a map. It takes 15 minutes to get from downtown Welland to the hospital site on Lyons Creek Road. That is only “extended” if we just decide the word has no meaning.

The coalition, unfazed by these considerable errors, used the report to claim the NHS was making bad health-care decisions.

I am not suggesting the NHS is above reproach. Far from it. But when it comes to health care we should be making decisions based on facts, not feelings, and should petition government to do the same.