A News Advisory and Commentary from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper
I don’t mind saying it. Few journalists in this region argued harder than I did, going back some eight or nine years ago now, against what I considered to be the bone-headed decision by the Niagara Health System – then led by CEO Debbie Sevenpifer – to build the only new mega-hospital this region of Niagara, Ontario was likely to receive approval for from the province for decades to come in west St. Catharines.
It was clear at the time, based on documentation I received from former NHS board members – that the Niagara Health System, an amalgamated hospital system for the region established by the former Conservative government of Mike Harris and Tim Hudak, would consolidate most of the acute care services in the region in this one new hospital.
That is why close to 100 brave doctors working at the NHS at the time took out full-page ads in local newspapers, recommending that the new hospital be located at a more central location in the region – possibly off Hwys. 406 and 20 around Thorold South and Pelham or off Hwy. 406 and East Main Street near the Welland Canal tunnel. They believed all of Niagara’s residents would have fairer access to its services that way.
The only municipal council in the whole region that joined those doctors and that took seriously the leaked reports that all or most acute care services would be located in the new hospital, wherever it was built, was the council of Niagara Falls. Every single member of that council, except then mayor Ted Salci, voted in favour of going after the NHS to locate the hospital in a more central site in Niagara, and that council made it clear it would accept a location that was not in Niagara Falls.
Unfortunately, no other municipality joined Niagara Falls in this campaign. And the regional council, then under the chairmanship of St. Catharines councillor Peter Partington, embraced NHS’s decision to locate the hospital in west St. Catharines, in the provincial riding of Liberal government cabinet minister and St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, among other things. What was so frustrating there was that Niagara Region’s planning department, under the leadership of then-commissioner Corwin Cambray, had the guts to table a report before the regional council, giving it at least eight good reasons why the west St. Catharines location made no sense. But that report was ignored after then NHS CEO came before council and warned that if the council rejected the west St. Catharines site in favour of another one, the province might turn around and say something like; ‘To hell with it then. No new hospital for Niagara.’
So Bradley, joined by then fellow cabinet minister Dave Caplan, who was the minister for infrastructural renewal at the time (a ministry that interestingly enough, was by then pushing for keeping major public institutions like hospitals in urban centres and not in fringe areas like west St. Catharines) and who went on to serve as health minister until he was forced to resign in disgrace, announced that west St. Catharines would be the site for the new NHS health complex, including first of a kind cancer and cardiac treatment centres for the region. Then St. Catharines mayor Tim Rigby celebrated with the words; ‘The eagle has landed.’
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the NHS tabled its infamous ‘Hospital Improvement Plan – from then on known to many as the HIP – spelling out what those brave doctors and others were trying to warn the public would happen years earlier – that most acute care services, including everything from emergency to maternity services, would be moved to the new west St. Catharines hospital site.
It took the release of the HIP for many thousands of people in south Niagara to flip and show out at meetings and rallies in large numbers. But by then, it was almost too late. The NHS and provincial government had already dug in its heals on the west St. Catharines site and the idea that the fake promise then NHS CEO Sevenpifer made, that existing community-based hospitals in Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Welland and Port Colborne would remain all or mostly fully functioning as acute care facilities was a fairy tale. Only a few groups like the Ontario Health Coalition, which I don’t recall playing any kind of a key role when NHS doctors and the Niagara Falls council were pushing for a central site for the new hospital, went on pandering to this fantasy that the aging hospitals in smaller communities across Niagara could be economically sustained as fully functioning acute care facilities.
After a decade of writing about this and watching all of the bullshit going on in a number of camps, it gets tiring to hear much more complaining about the new hospital and all the services from other parts of the region it is going to suck in now. I can understand why the Niagara Falls council, just this January 9, protested once again over the inevitable move of maternity services from that city and Welland to the west St. Catharines site after it opens at the end of this March.
I’m not saying people in Niagara Falls and more southern communities in Niagara should not fight to keep acute care service or demand that one or more new hospitals be built in their areas, in locations where any acute or emergency services they need are more accessible than they will be in west St. Catharines.
If people in south Niagara have the will to fight for new hospital facilities for that end of the region, they should start that fight now. We will likely be facing a provincial election this year and it isn’t too early to press the parties running in that election for a promise for accessible acute-care hospital services in south Niagara.
In the meantime, we are all invited to tour the new hospital in west St. Catharines. Niagara At Large is posting the media advisory for the tours immediately below. Notice that the NHS refers to this new complex as ‘the St. Catharines site’. There is still little or no open admission that this mega complex, in this north-end location, is the super hospital for Niagara that all those doctors and others, some eight years ago, pressed the NHS to locate in a more central location in the region.
Public tours of new St. Catharines Site
The new St. Catharines Site of the Niagara Health System opens on March 24, 2013.
Members of the public are invited for advance tours of the new state-of-the-art hospital.
Saturday, January 12, and Saturday, January 26
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please arrive before 3:30 p.m.New St. Catharines Site
1200 Fourth Avenue. Free parking on site – enter from main entrance on First Street Louth
- A non-perishable food item for donation to Community Care
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing (coat check not available)
- Food and drinks are not permitted; please bring bottled water only.
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