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‘Stop hiding, we want answers,’ warn public health advocates

Posted: February 5, 2020

(February 3, 2020)

By: Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles, North Bay Nugget

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, opposition NDP health critic, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Michael Hurley and Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition speak at a media conference the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ office on Lakeshore Drive Monday morning about the closure of 31 hospital-based addiction treatment beds. The speakers say after close scrutiny of newly acquired reports and documents there has been no concrete evidence provided to support the closure of these beds. JENNIFER HAMILTON-MCCHARLES, THE NUGGET

Public health advocates are calling on members of the Mayor’s Roundtable on Mental Health and Addictions to stop hiding behind a veil of secrecy when it comes to dealing with the city’s mental health and addiction services.

Ontario Health Coalition, Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic France Gelinas and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions came out Monday asking why hospital cuts are being made with no plan to deal with major service gaps, as well as the lack of public information from the mayor’s roundtable.

“The only thing that has been done is a cut of $1 million in funding from the North Bay Regional Health Centre. That money is slated to be transferred to an array of community groups, but there’s no plan to deal with any of the gaps in hospital services,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

“This process was run by so-called stakeholders, most of them from community organizations. The problem is we’re not clear whether anyone who might have been in a conflict of interest voted on the transfer of funds. Did they remove themselves from the vote and discussion? And why hasn’t a report from the mayor’s roundtable been made public? Nobody knows.”

Mehra attended a media conference held at the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ office on Lakeshore Drive Monday morning to raise concerns that there has been no evidence provided to support the closure of 31 hospital-based addiction treatment beds in June in favour of a community services model.

The changes were recommended last year by community organizations involved in a study by Dr. Brian Rush, which examined services in the community and were involved in the mayor’s roundtable.

Community organizations say the study determined the city has a surplus of residential treatment beds while it lacks an array of other services.

But Mehra disagrees. She says there was no evidence in the Rush report to say the hospital isn’t providing the right services.

“In fact, the Rush report talked repeatedly about the important programs at the North Bay Regional Health Centre. The report also identified gaps in services at the hospital that were significant, such as no services for acute intoxication,” Mehra said.

“What is happening now, the plans that are underway isn’t what was recommended in that report. In fact, the publicly available evidence shows that North Bay needs more hospital beds and that the cuts to the North Bay hospital have already gone far too far. There is also an increasingly serious opioid addiction crisis in the community,” she said.

“Our concern is that hospital services continue to be cut in an effort to save money, not because they’re going to offer better clinical care, but because it’s better for the hospital’s bottom line. The evidence in North Bay at this time is that these services are needed and there are people who are waiting for residential treatment.”

Mehra questions the process that led to these decisions and the lack of transparency.

“We’re extremely concerned about the actual needs of the patients on the wait lists. And when it comes to wait lists, well those are going to skyrocket.”

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said he is “very confident the health-care professionals” have done what they consider best for the community.

“This is just union pushback,” Fedeli said.

The health-care professionals, he said, have presented “an excellent plan” and he doesn’t need “anyone from Sudbury coming to North Bay” to tell the local community “how to do it.

“I am not taking any advice from the NDP” on how health-care should be run, he said.

“Any gaps (in the health-care system) will be smoothed out” of the “locally driven initiative.

Gelinas weighed in saying the North Bay hospital is known across the province for the quality of care it provides in psychiatry and addictions.

“It’s something to be very proud of,” she said. “But now you’re going to take that away to try to fund other parts of the continuum of care that the city doesn’t have and I say no to that. What this city needs is new money.”

She said although you hear a lot about the (Doug) Ford government cutting programs and services, the province has committed $3.8 billion in mental health and addiction services.

“So what we have to do is make sure some of that funding comes here to North Bay so you can build that continuum of care especially on the community side that is missing, so nobody falls through the cracks,” Gelinas said.

“To think you can take money from a program in the hospital and there will not be any lag time where people will not fall through the cracks is ludicrous.”

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