By Doug Draper
Opposition parties in the Ontario legislature hammered the province’s Liberal government once again this February 18 over hospital costs in Niagara and the possibility that they may have contributed to the death of Fort Erie teen Reilly Anzovino.
Reilly died following a car accident on Hwy. 3 in the late hours of this past Boxing Day, enroute or very shortly after arrival by ambulance to the Welland hospital site.
Concerns that she may have lived if ambulance paramedics could have taken her to the Fort Erie or Port Colborne hospital sites instead of Welland are so pervasive that members of all three major political parties in the province – Liberal MPP Kim Craitor from the Niagara Falls/Fort Erie area, NDP MPP Peter Kormos from the Welland/Port Colborne area and Tim Hudak, a Niagara area MPP who is now leader of the province’s Conservative Party, have called for a public inquest.
A plea for a public inquest was also made this past January by Reilly’s parents, Tim Anzovino and Denise Kennedy, and that, along with other related stories on health care and hospital cuts in Niagara, can be found by clicking on www.niagaraatlarge.com. Niagara At Large will also reprise the letter Reilly’s parents sent to Ontario’s chief coroner, asking for an inquest, at the end of this post.
But before that, Niagara At Large is once again publishing hansard from the Ontario legislature this February 18, with oppositions critics slamming the McGuinty government, once again, for gutting hospital services in the southern tier of Niagara and calling on the government to hold an inquiry into the circumstances around Reilly’s death.
You can read the debate, featuring Hudak, McGuinty, Liberal health minister Deborah Matthews, Tory health critic Christine Elliott and others by clicking on ‘keep reading’ at the end of this sentence.
LOCAL HEALTH INTEGRATION NETWORKSMrs.
Christine Elliott: My question is for the Premier. What test do you apply when you override decisions of bureaucrats and political appointees at LHINs?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I’ll refer this to the Minister of Health.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: I actually want to return to a question that was asked yesterday regarding Barry Monaghan and the drive-by smear of the Leader of the Opposition. I think it’s important for members of this House to actually know the truth.
Before taking on the position of the CEO of the Toronto Central LHIN, Mr. Monaghan was the president and CEO of West Park Healthcare Centre for 18 years. Before that, he was the CEO of the Orthopaedic and Arthritic Hospital for five years. He was the chair of the pediatric Cardiac Care Network of Ontario and is also a past chair of the Ontario Stroke Strategy. Under the Conservative government, Mr. Monaghan served as chair of the Cardiac Care Network for seven years.
The member opposite dismissed him as a Liberal friend. We did a donation search and the only time—
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I would just remind the honourable member that it’s important to—stop the clock, please. The question that was asked pertained to an issue that was asked today and not answering a question from yesterday. So I ask the member to deal with the question that is asked as of today.
Mrs. Christine Elliott: Thank you.
In January, the Premier said that bureaucrats at the Niagara LHIN advised him to close the emergency rooms at Fort Erie and Port Colborne. During the Toronto Centre by-election Minister Matthews said Grace hospital’s future lies with the LHIN. But just a day later the Premier shows he’ll interfere when it’s politically convenient. He swooped in to help the member for Winnipeg by handing out $15 million to Grace hospital on the day before voting began in the by-election.
So Premier, why didn’t you step in to save the emergency services at Fort Erie and Port Colborne?
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I’d just remind the honourable member that we refer to members by their riding names, and riding names here in the province of Ontario.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Thank you, Speaker.
I think the question is about LHINs, so let me just complete on Barry Monaghan. We did a search. We referred to—
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I just reminded the honourable member that the question that was asked—she’s answering a question
—We did do a search. You referred to him as—
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I just reminded the honourable member that she’s answering a question that was asked yesterday in this chamber. I would like the minister to deal with the question that is asked within the chamber today.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: When it comes to Toronto Grace Hospital, I can assure you that we have always supported the services at Toronto Grace Hospital. They provide an extraordinary and very special service for people, some of whom are quite vulnerable.
It seems to me that actually all parties agreed that the services should remain at the Grace. I was very pleased to meet with members of the Salvation Army and talk to them about how we could continue to provide services at the Grace. It is a very special place. It needs a little bit of help, and I think all parties agreed that it was the right thing to do.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Final supplementary.
Mrs. Christine Elliott: No one would question the merits of supporting the Grace hospital. Of course we all recognize that they provide exemplary service. But the Premier’s defence of Courtyard contracts and exorbitant bureaucrat salaries at the LHINs shows he’s not about to give up the farce that LHINs operate at arm’s length.
Two days ago you said LHINs are an effort to ensure that decisions about health investments are being made by the local community. But the vice-chair of Grace hospital gets it. He was quoted as saying, “Thank god for by-elections.” Even the minister admitted to the media on the night of the by-election that your office responded to political pressure. So why did you take $15 million away from Fort Erie and Port Colborne and hand it to the member from Toronto Centre’s by-election campaign?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: We have not closed one hospital under our watch. Not one hospital has been closed under our watch. And trust me, we would not have started with Toronto Grace, because of its very special place in the health care that is provided here. I deeply regret that the NDP candidate in that by-election chose to make a political issue of it, created a phony issue. The patients at the hospital, the staff at the hospital, the family members, had to deal with anxiety that was a complete fabrication of the NDP candidate.
Mrs. Christine Elliott: My question is for the Premier. On Boxing Day, Reilly Anzovino was in a car accident. Despite the heroic efforts of first responders, Reilly died before she even reached the Welland Hospital, even though the Fort Erie and Port Colborne hospitals were close. In 2008, your government closed emergency room services at Fort Erie and Port Colborne. Premier, do you regret that decision?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Health.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: The first thing I want to do, of course, is express condolences to the family. As a mother, I cannot imagine the loss they are feeling, and I sincerely express that sympathy to them.
We are building a health care system in Ontario where every person in Ontario has access to the very best possible care as close to home as possible. Having said that, the reality is that sometimes people will have to travel to another community to be able to access the highly specialized care that is part of today’s health care system. I think people understand that we cannot provide highly specialized care in every community hospital. When it comes to emergency care, it’s vitally important, absolutely essential, that people get to where that specialized care is available as quickly as possible.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary.
Mrs. Christine Elliott: In 2008, the McGuinty Liberals directed the Niagara LHIN to cut $50 million in services. This resulted in the closure of emergency services in Fort Erie and Port Colborne. The Liberal member for Niagara Falls believes this decision had an impact on this tragedy. Reilly’s father, Tim Anzovino, grew up with our leader. He and Reilly’s mother asked us to call on you for a coroner’s inquest into their daughter’s death. Will you respect their wishes and ask the coroner to examine whether the closure of the emergency room departments in Fort Erie and Port Colborne played a role in this tragedy?
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Minister?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: The member opposite understands that calling an inquest—
(Mrs. Christine Elliott)
… emergency room departments in Fort Erie and Port Colborne played a role in this tragedy.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Minister?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: The member opposite understands that calling an inquest is not a decision that is made by members of government. It’s a decision made by the coroner.
I do want to emphasize that in the case of trauma, it is absolutely essential that the victim gets to the best possible place as quickly as possible, without stopping first at a hospital that is not able to provide the care that’s required in that emergency.
We asked Dr. Jack Kitts of the Ottawa Hospital to take a look at the situation in Niagara. I’ve read his report carefully and I would urge members of the opposition to do the same. It’s a very thoughtful report on why the changes are the right changes.
I’m going to quote from Dr. Kitts: “Critically ill patients would be best served by direct transport to a definitive treatment centre.”
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary?
Mrs. Christine Elliott: What adds to this tragedy is that after the Premier ordered the LHIN to cut $15 million, he handed $15 million to the Toronto Central LHIN the day before the by-election began.
This is a tragedy that even a member of your own caucus believes resulted from the decision to close emergency services in the region.
The Premier used to call for coroners’ inquests on a regular basis when he was in opposition. He has ducked responsibility in this chamber with respect to this question today by deflecting it to the Minister of Health. But it’s time to start asking yourselves the tough questions. Will you start leading the call for a coroner’s inquest into the death of Reilly Anzovino?
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Minister?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: We have actually ended the political influence when it comes to coroners’ reports, and that’s the way it should be.
What I can tell the member opposite is that we will co-operate in every way possible if the coroner chooses to investigate. The Niagara Health System has made the same offer.
I think it’s important that the member opposite understands that all of us want to understand what happened in this situation. We do leave it to the coroner to make the professional judgment on an inquest.
Mr. Gerry Martiniuk: My question is for the Premier. Recent media reports quote members of the Liberal caucus saying that, “Morale over there is lower than a gutter snake in a puddle on a backcountry road. I’m not saying that came from the member from Niagara Falls, but no one would blame him if it did.
You, Premier, have handed out a foreign country billions of dollars, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle embarrassing lawsuits, used $50 million to help elect the member from Winnipeg, and they’re offering millions more to help your candidate in Ottawa–West Nepean.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I do not need any help from the armchair speakers on the government side.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): No. I’d just remind the honourable member of the warning I provided to the honourable member from Whitby–Oshawa. We refer to members who are here in this chamber.
Mr. Gerry Martiniuk: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Did you really think that taking $50 million from emergency services in the member for Niagara Falls’s riding wouldn’t matter to the safety of that community?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I just want to take this opportunity to speak to what is fundamentally an important issue. It’s part of a bit of trickery in which my colleagues opposite are engaged.
The member for Toronto Centre, newly elected, spent some time outside the province of Ontario in another Canadian province. I think there are members in all our parties who have spent some time in another province who are now representing Ontarians in our province.
More than that, I think there are members in this Legislature who spent a bit of time in another country before living in our province and representing people. If they have something against people living in other provinces or something against people living in other countries, they should have the guts to stand up and say that.
We’re open to all Ontarians. We don’t care where they come from. They’re representing Ontarians here, and we’re proud of that.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): The member from Nepean–Carleton should be in her seat, as she knows.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Members will come to order.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Outsiders not welcome.
(The parents of 18-year-old Reilly Anzovino, who died enroute to the Welland Hospital or shortly thereafter following a traffic accident on Hwy. 3 shortly before midnight on Boxing Day, have joined numerous others in Niagara’s southern tier in asking for an Ontario coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death.
Many, including Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor and Welland MPP Peter Kormos, want to know if the Niagara Health System’s decision last year to close the emergency rooms at the Fort Erie and Port Colborne hospital sites could be a factor in Reilly’s death, since she died shortly before arriving on at the Welland hospital site which was further away.
Niagara At Large has run news commentaries on this tragedy over the past two weeks which can be viewed by scrolling further down this page.
Below we are sharing a transcript of the letter Reilly’s parents sent to Dr. Andre McCallum, Chief Coroner of Ontario, requesting a public inquest.)
January 11, 2010
Dear Dr. McCallum
Re: Request for a Public Inquest into the Death of Reilly Anzovino. December 27th, 2009, Fort Erie. ON.
We, the parents of Reilly Anzovino, are writing to ask you to exercise your authority in conducting an inquest into the death of our daughter.
We fully support the request made by Mr. Kim Craitor, MPP in his letter of January 4, 2010. We have many questions relating to the death of our daughter. Our primary concern is whether time played a factor in her death.
We understand that on December 26th, 2009, it took 30 minutes to transport her from the accident site to the Welland hospital site and that she died shortly before arrival. While we understand that aggressive resuscitation was performed, we wonder if time was a factor in obtaining the blood transfusions needed to stabilize her condition while she was still alive.
We have questions regarding comments made that the ambulance ran out of oxygen which would have been critical given the nature of her injuries and resulting blood loss. The issue that arises that is of concern to us as her parents and of interest to the public is the need to determine whether the closer of the Douglas Memorial site and the Port Colborne site played a role in Reilly’s death given the extra time it took to transport her to Welland. Our hears ache with the “what ifs.”
What if Reilly could have been transported to Fort Erie or Port Colborne where she could have received the blood transfusions she needed while she was still alive? What if she could have been stabilized enough to airlift her to a trauma center like ECMC or Hamilton General? Could she still be alive today?
While we know that nothing will bring our daughter back, we need to know the answers to these questions. It is hard to find any peace without them. We remain concerned for other residents in our community (including many other family members) whose health and well-being may similarly be affected.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Sincerely, Tim Anzovino and Denise Kennedy.
(For related news and commentary click on www.niagaraatlarge.com.)