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Ontario Health Coalition warns that Chesley hospital most at risk of closure in the province

Posted: September 23, 2023

(September 22 2023)

By: Pauline Kerr, Walkerton Herald Times

CHESLEY – Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, paid a visit to the Chesley hospital site for a brief press conference the morning of Friday, Sept. 15.

Mehra joined Brenda Scott, chair of Chesley Hospital Community Support and co-chair of Grey Bruce Health Coalition’s small and rural hospital caucus, for an in-person meeting at the hospital, and a number of others from across the province for a virtual meeting about concerns over hospital emergency room closures.

“Chesley is now ground zero,” said Mehra. “This hospital is the most at risk of closure in the province,” following the permanent closure of Minden.

At the time of the press conference, the Chesley hospital’s emergency room (ER) was on a two-week complete closure until Sept. 25.

She added that the four-hospital group that Chesley is part of – South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) – is one of the most “unstable” in the province. SBGHC hospitals in Walkerton and Durham were also dealing with ER closures the same time Chesley’s ER was closed.

Other hospital alliances suffering a similar instability include the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (hospitals in Stratford, Clinton, St. Marys and Seaforth), Wingham and Listowel, and Carleton Place in Eastern Ontario.

“Instability begets more instability,” said Mehra, explaining that no nurse or doctor wants to accept a position at such a hospital. What’s needed from the province is a clear message there’ll be no more closures,” she said, so hospitals will be able to recruit personnel. To date, the only message from the province is the opposite – the closure of Minden.

As Scott explained, the number of ER closures, once a relative rarity in the province, has not slowed now that summer is over.

“We notice the pace of ER closures is picking up speed, and changing… here we are, with the leaves changing colour, and this (Chesley) hospital’s ER is closed for two weeks at a time.”

Scott went on to say, “I’m concerned it may foreshadow a permanent closure.”

She noted that three of the four hospitals in the SBGHC are hit with ER closures. The fourth, Kincardine, is not.

“That’s a 75 per cent failure rate,” she said. “We have questions.”

One of those questions is why half of the 14-member SBGHC board of directors are part of the Kincardine hospital refurbishment committee – but there’s no refurbishment committee for hospitals in Walkerton, Chesley or Durham.

Another is how do ambulance services and other hospitals cope with the added pressure. Scott said people are now calling an ambulance for things that don’t require one, for the reason that they figure paramedics will know which hospital ER is open. And the wait times at area hospitals with open ERs are becoming quite lengthy.

“The whole system is affected,” she said.

The community in Chesley isn’t going to see their hospital close without a fight, said Scott. There’s a large protest happening in Queen’s Park on Sept. 25, planned by the Ontario Health Coalition and the unions. Scott hopes to see a huge turnout.

“Small, rural hospitals are a vital part of health care,” Scott said. “They are not an ‘add-on.’”

That message hit close to home for Scott and her family when her brother suffered a serious heart attack only a week-and-a-half earlier. He was taken to the hospital in Chesley. Fortunately, the ER was open.

“He wouldn’t have made it to Hanover,” she said, adding that he has since received treatment at a larger centre.

And yet it’s those small, rural hospitals that are in danger of further ER closures and potentially, permanent closure.

Mehra said there were 848 ER closures in the province last year. This year there’ll be more – there were already 498 as of August.

Mehra said it’s at the point that if a hospital ER is closed in one place, there’s no guarantee the one at the next-closest hospital is open.

“You’d think that it would be ‘all boots on the ground’ and the province would be calling recently retired nurses and inviting them back to work,” Mehra said. That’s not happening. She said the province’s priority is centralization and privatization – “drive the public system into the ground and privatize.”

She continued, “We’re really worried. I think they’re going to close this (hospital in Chesley, as well as those in Seaforth and Clinton). The public has to say this is unacceptable!”

Mehra concluded by saying, “The province is the only one that can do anything.”

Protest in Markdale draws double the expected numbers

Friday’s press conference comes the day after another event not very far from Chesley – the grand opening of Markdale’s new hospital.

On Thursday, Sept. 14, Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones attended the grand opening.

They weren’t the only ones. There were also 170 protesters (85 had been expected, said Scott) on the street outside the hospital, carrying signs demanding Greenbelt accountability and an end to health-care privatization.

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