Having access to health care when it’s needed is not a privilege; it’s a human right.
However, Niagara Falls NDP MPP Wayne Gates said accessing health care is a problem here in Niagara and across the province.
At the Dec. 18 Fort Erie council meeting, Gates spoke to councillors about the auditor general’s latest report on emergency departments, and the importance of restoring overnight services to the Douglas Memorial Urgent Care Centre (UCC).
“The reality is small, rural communities across this province have been suffering from the lack of health-care services,” Gates said.
Referring to the auditor general’s probe into emergency departments, Gates said the report indicated wait times are up, closures have become increasingly common, and some hospitals are struggling with as many as one in four jobs left unfilled.
The report, which was released this month, stated that prior to 2019, unplanned emergency department closures were rare. Between July 2022 and June 2023, there were more than 200 unplanned emergency department closures involving 23 hospitals, mostly in rural or remote areas, largely due to nursing and doctor shortages
“The report says UCCs play an absolute vital role in supporting our health-care system. In fact, we should be investing in more urgent care, not cutting services from communities. It’s important for communities like Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Minden, which has been fighting as well, like we have,” Gates said.
Gates said he planned to attend the meeting to talk to council about results from a public meeting on health care that was planned for last month. That meeting was cancelled due to an attendee who suffered a medical emergency prior to the start of the meeting.
“Because we had that health emergency at the town hall meeting, and everybody went home and we didn’t hold the meeting, I still thought it was important to go and encourage the residents to come,” he said. “I want the residents to come and listen to the stories that we’re facing.”
Originally planned for Nov. 30 at the Fort Erie Leisureplex, the meeting was supposed to be an opportunity to hear from local politicians, as well as from members of advocacy group Fort Erie Healthcare SOS, Niagara Health Coalition, Ontario Health Coalition and the Yellow Shirt Brigade about community health care.
The goal was to gain public input to help the health-care advocacy groups in their next steps in a fight to ensure health-care services are restored and protected.
As for the meeting that was supposed to take place, it has been rescheduled for Jan. 11. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Erie Leisureplex at 3 Municipal Dr.