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North Bay mayor, health coalition lock horns

Posted: February 6, 2020

(February 5, 2020)

By: Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles, North Bay Nugget

The Ontario Health Coalition has fired back at Al McDonald following what it calls a “personal attack” by the North Bay mayor.

In a letter, executive director Natalie Mehra says she was surprised to read McDonald’s Facebook comments following a media conference at which she, NDP health critic France Gelinas and Michael Hurley of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions opposed the closing of 31 hospital-based addiction treatment beds in June in favour of a community service model.

“The mayor has gone out on a full-scale attack against us and NDP health critic France Gelinas, who expressed an interest in the issue and asked to join us at the media conference,” Mehra writes.

“We have clearly touched a nerve. The discussion should not be about personal attacks, but about the actual plan and the process by which the decision has been made. These should and must be publicly accountable.”

Mehra claims no concrete facts have been provided to support the closing of the 31 addiction treatment beds.

Hours after Monday’s media conference, McDonald questioned on Facebook where Gelinas was eight months earlier when North Bay was dealing with its addictions crisis?

“The group from outside North Bay has never reached out to us and asked about our thoughts and concerns. Still hasn’t,” he wrote. “I didn’t hear from the health critic eight months ago when there was a crisis, when we stated publicly a roundtable was being put together, when the recommendations were presented to the public, when we went to ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) to present the findings to the government.

“If Gelinas wants a copy of the report from the Mayor’s Roundtable prior to it being released to the public in the next few days “then all she has to do is ask. I will be happy to send her a copy.

“What is concerning is suddenly I am reading in the media this group is calling us into question and using disparaging remarks to attack our community groups and stakeholders. All we did was try to find solutions.”

Mehra writes that she was surprised by the tone of McDonald’s response.

“Yes we raised questions about the process, and we still have those questions. In fact, I was surprised Mayor Al McDonald’s response wasn’t about the services,” she writes.

“The co-chair of the Mayor’s Roundtable is the executive director of one of the agencies that is getting the money that is being cut from the hospital. The other agency’s executive director is also on the roundtable. The public deserves to know whether the organizations that are slated to get some of this $1 million that has been cut from the hospital budget voted in support of it.”

Mehra raises the issue of the impact closing the beds will have on people on the waiting list.

“The services that are proposed in the community are not commensurate to the ones they are planning to shut down. Withdrawal management is not the same as residential treatment and even among the two residential treatment programs, levels of care, cultures and approaches, admission criteria etc. are all different.

“There has been no assessment of the level of need for the patients on the wait list for the hospital program. There is no assessment of the differences between the two programs and what that means.”

Mehra says McDonald has no evidence to back his claim about the hospital program not meeting people’s needs.

“We have reviewed absolutely every document that includes evidence about the local needs,” she writes. “We asked the NE LHIN outright, and there is simply no evidence on outcomes for the hospital program or for the North Bay Recovery Home program. To make that claim is hurtful for the nurses who work so hard at the hospital residential program,” she writes.

In addition, Mehra disputes the roundtable’s interpretation of an addiction services study by Dr. Brian Rush.

Mehra says Rush completed two reports, in 2016 and 2018, and neither recommended the closure of residential and crisis beds.

“If those decisions to cut 31 beds are based on Dr. Rush’s report, in fact, those services are listed as vital. He identifies a range of community services that are missing and hospital services. No recommendation to cut all hospital programs.

“Never have I seen this type of situation before where given info by the LHIN doesn’t match the information we find in written reports or from front-line staff.”

McDonald did not respond to a request for an interview. Instead, he had city communications officer Gord Young issue a statement.

“As the mayor of North Bay, I am encouraged by the interest about the services required to serve our citizens who experience homelessness and drug-related issues in our community,” the statement reads. “This is something that is important to all of us.

“Representatives from 29 community organizations, who live and work in North Bay and area, came together to put forward an actionable, community-based plan.”

McDonald says the organizations are “coordinating a date for the public release of the report so that all of the partners can be present to speak about their role in transforming mental health and addictions access and care in our community.”

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