By Doug Draper
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath came storming into south Niagara this week like a winter blizzard to slam the province’s Liberal government for letting emergency room services at hospitals in Fort Erie and Port Colborne die.
“The hardworking people of Niagara have the right to know that help will be there in a medical emergency or when a loved one gets sick,” said Horwath to a gathering of area residents outside Fort Erie’s Douglas Memorial Hospital. “The McGuinty Liberals found billions of dollars to provide a tax giveaway to some of Ontario’s richest corporations, but they’re closing down local emergency rooms. That’s wrong.”
The NDP leader’s trip to Fort Erie follows in the wake of growing calls by residents in the area and by one of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s own Liberal government members – Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor – for an investigation into the workings of the Niagara Health System, the decade-old agency created by the province’s former Conservative government and allowed to march on with the blessing of McGuinty and company to operate most of the hospitals across the Niagara region.
Horwath’s trip also follows in the wake of the death of 18-year-old Reilly Anzovino this past Boxing Day. The Fort Erie teen had to be rushed to the emergency room at the Welland hospital following a traffic accident on a Fort Erie stretch of Hwy. 3 and was pronounced dead on arrival. Many in the south end wonder if she might still be alive today if she could have been ambulanced to emergency rooms in either Fort Erie or Port Colborne.
The emergency rooms at those hospitals were closed and converted to “urgent care centres” last year by the NHS as it consolidates its restructures services under a controversial “Hospital Improvement Plan” that has received the blessing of the McGuinty government despite protests from many thousands of Niagara residents.
The NHS stresses that these urgent care centres will continue to accept about 95 per cent of the patients that were accepted at the now-closed emergency rooms. But the most life-threatening cases will now have to be taken to emergency rooms in Welland or Niagara Falls, and the Fort Erie teen apparently fell into that category.
“It’s time to get our priorities straight,” said Horwath as she stood on the steps of the Fort Erie hospital. “We can’t afford another round of corporate tax giveaways if it means losing local health services.”
Horwath noted that in recent months the NHS has announced the closure of 39 hospital beds, with 22 slated to close in Welland, 10 in Port Colborne and 7 in Fort Erie. The cuts follow the closure of local emergency rooms in Fort Erie and Port Colborne.
“First they cut the ER and cancelled surgeries, and now they’re removing hospital beds,” said Horwath. “Is this the legacy Dalton McGuinty plans to leave when it comes to health care in Ontario.”
Among those in the gathering was Kim Craitor, a Liberal MPP whose Niagara Falls riding includes Fort Erie. He has been a vocal critic of the NHS when it has come to cutting hospital services in Niagara Falls and more southern communities of the region. And he told reporters he attended the gathering as a supporter of the concerns of his local constituents.
Sue Salzer, head of the Yellow Shirt Brigade, a group of south Niagara residents fighting to save hospital services, told Niagara At Large that “no one felt the cold blowing off Lake Erie as we listened to NDP leader Andrea Horwath share with us a mutual frustration of a Niagara Health System gone wrong.”
“It was heart warming to have Kim Craitor and (Fort Erie) Mayor Doug Martin attend the rally in a true indication that concern for accessible health care in our communities is bi-partisan and transcends all political boundaries. With such strong support from our political leaders, there must be a light at the end of this very long tunnel.”
Niagara At Large includes here a transcript of NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s address to the Tuesday, Jan. 12 gathering of residents in front of the Fort Erie hospital.
“Dalton McGuinty says he’s not making cuts to health care in Ontario. But I challenge him to come to Fort Erie and say that. The people of this community know better.
I don’t need to remind anyone here that these cuts come on the heels of the closure of two local emergency rooms. We all know what these cuts mean: they mean we’re losing access to good-quality health care close to home. These cuts mean that we don’t have the assurance that help will be there when we need it, when a loved one gets sick or during an emergency. That’s not right.
The impact on neighboring hospitals as a result of the ER closures has been staggering, but the government had no plan to deal with the spike. The Niagara Falls and Welland hospitals had to cancel all elective surgery this winter due to the burden of H1N1 because there was no relief in the system.
Four doctors resigned from the Niagara Falls hospital because of the mess. Douglas Memorial Hospital has lost its operating rooms. And still, we have no indication when the Liberals’ cuts will stop.
You can tell what a politician’s priorities are by the choices they make, and we think Dalton McGuinty has made some poor choices. Why is it that Dalton McGuinty has millions of dollars for high-priced health consultants, but not for the emergency room in Fort Erie? How come Dalton McGuinty has money to pay the bloated, six-figure salaries for health care bureaucrats, but he won’t spend the money to keep hospital beds in Niagara where they’re needed? How come Dalton McGuinty can find money to give a $2-billion tax giveaway to corporations, but he won’t invest in doctors and nurses right here?
It’s clear where the Liberals’ priorities are. Not on the side of hardworking Fort Erie families who don’t have access to the health care they deserve. Let’s put the people of Fort Erie first when it comes to spending our scarce health care dollars. Let’s not spend precious public dollars on another tax giveaway to some of the wealthiest corporations in Ontario.
We call on the McGuinty government to stop the cuts now. I’ve joined the OMA, local political leaders, community advocates and many others to demand an end to these cuts. Today, we raise our voices once again. The people of Niagara region deserve better.
We will continue to ensure your voices are heard at Queen’s Park.
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