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Sydenham District Hospital board meeting 5 p.m. Tuesday in Wallaceburg

Posted: April 18, 2016

(April 18, 2016)

By: Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

Wallaceburg’s emergency department is not on the chopping block, says Ontario’s premier.

“There are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital’s emergency department,” Kathleen Wynne said Monday in Question Period at Queen’s Park.

She was responding to a question from NDP Health Critic France Gelinas, speaking on behalf of a small group from Wallaceburg and Walpole Island that had journeyed there for the day.

“I understand that, when there are rumours in communities, that can cause some upheaval, but there is no truth to that rumour,” Wynne said. “There are no plans to close that emergency department.”

Questions have swirled about the Wallaceburg hospital as its parent corporation — the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance that oversees it — has been facing a $1.8-million deficit.

Health Alliance executives have said all options are on the table to recoup those dollars — lost due to provincial funding cutbacks. Members with the Sydenham hospital board have recently spoken out, voting against a proposal for the facility’s emergency department that board chair Sheldon Parsons said does “not meet our minimum expectations.”

An emailed statement from Health Alliance spokesperson Zoja Holman Monday noted the proposal had been green-lighted by its other two hospital boards, as well as boards with the local Canadian Mental Health Association branch and Chatham Kent Community Health Centres.

That proposal, developed with support from clinicians, would “provide timely access to safe, quality care, for the community and operate within the funds now available to the organization,” she wrote in an email.

More details are expected at a public Sydenham board meeting to be held Tuesday, 5 p.m. at Wallaceburg’s UAW Hall.

“I think it’s going to be a free-for-all,” said Shirley Roebuck, head of the Wallaceburg, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia chapters of the Ontario Health Coalition.

She was at the helm of the group that journeyed to Toronto on Monday.

“We know there is a plan to downgrade the few remaining health care services that are available in Wallaceburg and that is simply not acceptable,” she said.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins also said Monday there are no plans to close Wallaceburg’s emergency department.

“In addition, any proposals to alter the service level of the hospital would need to be approved by all members of the Alliance and the Erie St. Clair LHIN (Local Health Integration Network), and would require extensive community consultation and discussions with my ministry,” he wrote in a statement.

“Neither the LHIN nor my ministry have received any such requests.”

The response from government is good news, said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

“Now our job is to keep their feet to the fire and make sure the … local hospital leadership not continue to gut the services in Wallaceburg, as they have been doing,” she said.

Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton, who posed a similar question about Sydenham hospital’s emergency department last month, said he doesn’t trust the Liberal government.

“There’s been so many service reductions” at Wallaceburg’s hospital over the past several years, he said.

“It’s a feeling in the community, and I agree … that these services are being lost to the larger hospitals in the amalgamation, like Chatham.”

Gelinas said the response to her question was as good as could be hoped for the health coalition group

“Both the premier and the minister of health looked at them and promised them they would keep the emergency department as well as the Wallaceburg hospital open,” she said.

“It was great, great news for them.”

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