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Niagara health care ‘in a real crisis’: coalition chair

Posted: June 8, 2023

(June 6, 2023)

By: Richard Hutton, Fort Erie Post

Health-care advocates are calling for the province to step in and keep south Niagara’s urgent care centres operating 24 hours a day.

Niagara Health announced last week that as of July 5, operating hours at urgent care centres in Fort Erie and Port Colborne would be cut back to 12 hours a day (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) seven days a week.

Speaking at a news conference at Queen’s Park designed to put pressure on the Ford government to properly fund health care, Sue Hotte, chair of the Niagara Health Coalition, said that staffing shortages are affecting all three Niagara Health hospital sites, and all are operating over capacity.

“In a nutshell, what we have in Niagara, Port Colborne and Fort Erie is a real crisis,” she said.

“The government has the solution. The solution is you have to fund the system,” she said, adding that funding needs to build a better system for the future and not simply provide temporary relief.

“They need the funding that is guaranteed so that they can attract the physicians and the nurses and the technicians to come and stay in our hospitals, to stay there and work there,” she said.

Fort Erie resident Heather Kelly, a member of the group Fort Erie SOS, said having fully operational urgent care at Douglas Memorial Hospital was a matter of life and death for one American summer resident who suffered from heart issues.

“The only place she knew to go was Douglas Memorial and thank goodness this wasn’t July 5, the date of an announced closure,” Kelly said. “Because they were able to take her in, even though she presented with no vital signs. They were able to take her and get her heart going again and then stabilize there so she could move on to a larger centre after that.”

The cut to UCC hours is just the latest blow to health-care access in Fort Erie, she said.

“We thought many years ago when they decided that they were going to close the hospital facility,” Kelly said. “We were able to maintain a smaller, urgent care centre after that and now they’re saying that we need to also lose the urgent care.”

Hotte and Kelly were joined at the event by Niagara’s three NDP MPPs, Wayne Gates (Niagara Falls), Jeff Burch (Niagara Centre) and Jeannie Stevens (St. Catharines).

“This is an issue that was created by the Ford government,” Gates said.

Legislation such as Bill 124, which limits wage increases in the health-care sector to one per cent, “attacked nurses” and Bill 60, which will allow private clinics to perform some health-care services under OHIP, has contributed to staffing shortages across the province.

“We’re seeing it all across the province, you’re seeing in Fort Erie with the urgent care centre,” he said. “You’re seeing it in Minden, that had their emergency rooms closed.”

“If these urgent cares close, people in Fort Erie are going to die,” Gates said.

Burch, meanwhile, recalled when he ran federally for the NDP back in 2005, that the prospect of hospitals being closed in Fort Erie and Port Colborne loomed large back then.

“We were called fearmongers … and, you know, it turned out to be true,” he said. “This is a long-standing trend to remove services from our community. We’ve been fighting this for a long time.”

He said changes being made at Niagara Health’s Welland site that have resulted in surgeries no longer being performed on weekends only complicates matters more for people in Port Colborne especially.

“If they have an emergency now, they can’t go to the urgent care after hours and they may not get the help they need if they go to the Welland hospital either,” he said.

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