Niagara, Ontario’s Regional Councillors Urged To ‘Stand Shoulder To Shoulder’ In Fight For Better Hospital Services

By Doug Draper

Niagara, Ontario’s regional council is giving the body responsible for operating a majority of the hospitals across the region until the end of August to respond to calls from local municipalities and a provincial coalition of citizens for an independent investigation into “serious complaints” and “unresolved issues” members of the public have expressed about the management of those hospitals.

 During its July 15 meeting, the region’s council set the same deadline for a response from the province’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the provincially created Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) for Niagara and surrounding Ontario regions and municipalities. The decision to send resolutions by the Ontario Health Coalition and its Niagara Health Coalition chapter, along with similar resolutions approved by Town of Fort Erie and the cities of Port Colborne, Welland and Thorold, to the province for an independent investigation of the operation of hospital services in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Welland, Fort Erie and Port Colborne became the subject of heated debate.

There were some, including St. Catharines reps Judy Casselman and Bruce Timms, who insisted it is only fair to send the resolutions to Niagara Health System – that body responsible for operating the hospitals – for their comment before the regional government approves any kind of a resolution for a provincial investigation. Casselman argued that the region has no business having a say in how the NHS manages its affairs because the responsibility for managing hospital services ultimately falls on the region doesn’t have the jurisdiction to look after medical care for hospital or control of hospital budgets.

Welland regional councillor George Marshall told Casselman and others on the council that the regional government already has enough at stake to have some say in how the Niagara Health System is managing our hospitals. The region has agreed to invest $20 million of taxpayers money in facilities at the new hospital the NHS is building in west St. Catharines, Marshall said, and regional taxpayers are already taking a hit for more than a million dollars per year in extra ambulance services to get people from the south end of Niagara to emergency departments still open in Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines.

“This problem isn’t going away,” said Marshall in his remarks. “And to say that it has nothing to do with the region, I think, is an error. The fact that we gave $20 million for the regional portion (of the west St. Catharines hospital complex now under construction by the NHS at a cost of more than $1.2 billion) speaks significantly to our involvement with the ratepayers (and) the fact that we are getting into transit, both the specialized and driving forces behind getting behind region-wide transit … is because of health care. ..,”

“We are losing hospitals in two of our neighbourhoods in Port Colborne and Fort Erie. What does that do to economic development? Does that have nothing to do with the region? It has plenty to do with the region. There is issue after issue after issue. …

“I am not here to give an answer tonight. But I am here to say that it is our business. It is affecting every man, woman and child in this community. Do you think that people want to move to Port Colborne and Fort Erie right now and happily say; ‘I’m going to bring 50 or 100 people … Oh, you don’t have a hospital. … I think we have a profound responsibility to look after each other as we have for 40 years. I don’t think we should stop now.”

Port Colborne regional councillor Bob Saracino questioned why the council would not simply endorse the resolution’s call for an investigation rather than send it to the NHS for a response first.

“We need an investigator,” said Saracino, arguing that it makes no sense to send the resolution to a body that released and began implementing a “hospital improvement plan” two years ago that is responsible for the closing of emergency departments in Port Colborne and Fort Erie, the closing of beds at hospital sites across the region, and other changes to services that are raising public concerns. “You are not going to get the answers to the issues we now face” from the NHS, Saracino said.

Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey urged regional councillors across the region to “stand shoulder to shoulder (and) speak as one voice” in pressing for proper hospital care services in Niagara. What the NHS is doing to hospital services in Niagara is impacting every community across the region, including St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland, with longer wait times in emergency rooms and other problems involving patient care, he said.

Badawey told councillors his municipality has been working with doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals to develop a new model for serving smaller and rural communities that have seen cuts to their hospitals, and has not received a response from the province to its efforts in more than two years. “All we are asking for is action from the (health) ministry,” said Badawey.

“All we are asking for is for you 30-some-odd people around this horseshoe to stand shoulder to shoulder with us so that work that needs to be done (to fix health care) will get done,” he said. The call for an investigation of NHS’s operations follows in the wake of 12 public hearings held in Niagara and other regions of the province earlier this year by a non-partisan panel of experts on health care established by the Toronto-based Ontario Health Coalition.

Among its key findings from the hearings, the panel stated that “Niagara has the poorest access to hospital beds and emergency department care in all the regions (it) visited in Ontario.” The coalition’s panel went on to charge that “cuts (in Niagara’s hospitals) were and are being implemented without adequate protections for resident access to care (and) that hospital care in Niagara is chaotic, perilously short-staffed and under-resourced.”

The NHS has taken issue with the coalition panel’s findings and has insisted that emergency wait times and other hospital services at what it calls its “centres of excellence” across the region are improving.

(Click on Niagara At Large at for more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern in our greater binational Niagara region.)

8 responses to “Niagara, Ontario’s Regional Councillors Urged To ‘Stand Shoulder To Shoulder’ In Fight For Better Hospital Services

  1. Many thanks to Bob Saracino for all his great work in bringing to the floor of the Regional council the health’s committee recommendation that the presentation by the Niagara Health Coalition be sent to the NHS for comment. It allowed for a great debate among many of the mayors and the councillors. The Mayor of Port Colborne , Vance Badawey, spoke passionately about the need for everyone sitting around the horsehoe to stand shoulder to shoulder and support one another. George Marshall , regional councillor for Welland did a great job in ensuring that everyone in Council understood that the Region does have a responsibility regarding hospitals and hospital care. It donates money to hospital foundations, to the building of the new hospital in St. Catharines, funds additional paramedics and ambulances due to the closure of the ERs in the southern tier and faces greater pressure regarding its long term facilities as the NHS continues to close more of its complex care beds. Furthermore, it has greater infrastructure costs due to the location of the new hospital – the timetable for infrastructure renewal in that particular had to moved up substantially. These expenses have had an impact on our taxes . Closure of hospitals have an impact on where people, business and industry will locate.
    Like Regional Councillor Judy Casselman , St. Catharines Councillor Andrew Gill does not quite get it that municipal and regional governments have an important role to pay when its comes to hospitals and hospital services in their respective jurisdiction. St. Catharines’ share for the new hospital is over $ 30 million and this does not include the upgrades to roads, sewers etc.
    Regional Councillor Bruce Timms favors a report from the NHS to the Ontario Health Coalition’s report on Rural and Small hospitals. The NHS did receive the report in May and said that it would respond. To date it has not. It will be interesting to see if it will respond to the Region’s request. It’s usual pattern it to ignore requests from municipal councils for reports. What will Regional Council and its health committee do if there is no response to their request from the NHS, the LHIN and the Ministry ?
    The Niagara Health Coalition did a presentation to the St. Catharines Council and presented the motion that the Council request an independant investigator into the NHS in order to remedy various types of problems found within the system which have a detrimental impact on hospital care and services in the peninsula. Councillor Williamson asked why not wait for a review until after the new hospital is built. We need to have these problems dealt with now. ERs are overcrowded and people are waiting up to 4 days to get the care that they need. There is ambulance gridlock . What impact does this have on the ability of our emergency services to deal with the calls they receive? Surgeries are cancelled or delayed due to lack of staff and beds. Staffing levels have been cut back in all departments including housekeeping and maintenance. Infections like septis are present. Some people’s health conditions have deteriorated – some even died because of these conditions. Closing ERs in the southern tier puts over 50.000 people directly at risk.
    Another 300,000 are negatively impacted because of the added stress on the remaining hospitals and hospital services.
    The NHS has had investigators who have done peer reviews and who looked into how the NHS can reduce its operational deficit problems. The solutions were brought in with the HIP or restructuring plan. It’s primary focus was to cut beds, reduce services , close 2 ERs and to reduce staff. Councillor Kushner wondered why we needed another investigation. The paramaters of the independant investigator are very different. He/she will be reviewing the effects of the restructuring plan on all aspects of the NHS. One recommendation could well be that the NHS is still underfunded . It still has an operational deficit of over $ 3million dollars – down from $ 14million due to an increase in its budget by the government a few months ago.
    The Provincial Liberal government has to take ownership of the problem that it created when it did not fund the NHS and other health systems adequately.
    Councillor Eliott wondered why the Ontario Health Coalition even set up an independant panel to hold 12 public hearings as the government has a committee that will be doing that. The committee created last fall still has not met with the public. The OHC report’s conclusion was that Niagara has the worse hospital care in all of Ontario.
    There is a crisis everywhere in Ontario – the govenrment is closing hospitals, ERS and or reducing services in many communities. It has underfunded the hospitals – so much so that over 70 of them were in a deficit situation. The only way out it to cut beds, staff and services. The government even passed a law making it illegal to have a deficit. These measures have had a tremendous impact on how hospitals and hospitals services are delivered in Ontario. Public policy has been changed and it is contra the values of most Ontarians. We need to have a good debate in the Legislature and public hearings throughtout the province regarding health and hospital care in our province.
    Our MPPs, Kim Craitor in Niagara Falls , Peter Kormos in Welland and Tim Hudak in Niagara West Glanbrook are all on record supporting the reopening of the southern tier hospitals and for improving services in Niagara. Jim Bradley MPP for St. Catharines has been strangely silent. After all the new hospital is being built in his Riding and I guess he is not concerned about the quality of hospital services in all the hospitals including St. Catharines. If he was, he would be lobbying the Premier and the Minister of health for an independant investigator and for adequate funding for the NHS. His new hospital of 375 beds will not only serve St. Catharines, Thorold and Niagara on the Lake but also another 200,000 people. We are probably at best looking at about 225 beds for St. Catharines.
    As the NHS continues on its cuts to meet zero deficit on operations, more services will be transferred to the St.Catharines site . It will become a lose lose situation for all.
    The province does need to send in under the Public Hospital Act an independant investigator into the NHS. Citizens of Niagara deserve quality hospital care and services.


  2. Pat Scholfield

    I agree with Sue Hotte’s accurate and well researched comments.
    Cutting beds, reducing services, closing two ERs and reducing staff seem to be the main method for the NHS to cut their costs. This is not acceptable for providing timely and eqitable access to health care for all Niagarans.

    Is it going to get worse? Go on the HNHB LHIN website and read their Integrated Programs for Complex Care and you will discover the NHS will be cutting another 41 beds in the coming year. Where will these beds be located? They can’t cut many more in Port Colborne or Fort Erie. They will tell you they are not cutting acute beds….they are only cutting Complex Care beds….but let us not forget they had been acute beds until the NHS recently changed their designation from acute to Complex Continuing Care beds.

    It all boils down to less beds in the system.

    This leads to situations like the family in Port Colborne whose loved one went to Port Colborne hospital, was transferred to Welland for a blood transfusion, was resuscitated at Welland and needed to go to St. Catharines for special resources only provided there in Niagara. Unfortunately all beds at St. Catharines hospital were full and the patient lanquished in Welland for four days until being sent to Kitchener. The long and short of this story is the patient died.

    Stories like this are happening all over….Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines. It is not only Port Colborne and Fort Erie residents being affected.

    If the Regional Municipality of Niagara wants us to think of ourselves as “One Niagara”, all regional councilors must act as one body to protect access to our health care system.


  3. I have a “MAJOR” concern, on Port Colborne, on the “MESS” the hospital has been put in, here in Port Colborne..
    Never before have I ever thought that Port Colborne’s 2nd floor of the hospital there, was going to look like the back room of a warehouse ever!!!! that’s really sad with what all the politics of our Provincial Government of Ontario, along with the Niagara Health System NHS., has done.
    That is a “R*E*A*L” “S*M*E*A*R” on our hospital..
    Bad enough, when the Niagara Health System NHS., did they never know or at least I don’t think they ever did anyways, about the situation of the fact that our local hospital in Port Colborne, had played a very “S*I*G*N*I*F*I*C*A*N*T” role to both the Canadian & U.S. Coast Guards, especially with its location being right on the lake, and especially to our air & marine search & rescues, out in Lake Erie, as well Port Colborne Hospital, was right on the Lake and in the right spot, and right there immidiately to assist, in such situations, even the same for the sailors off the Great Lakes & Ocean Freighters that come through here regularly through the Navigation season, when they were so close to getting the medical assistance as well that they needed with Port Colborne being right there on the right spot.. Now the Niagara Health System NHS, has taken that away from those people as well as to our locals, who have to be forced at most times to go to Welland, or have to go to Niagara Falls or St.Catharines., which is what I just cannot go through with even saying only becuase I’ve heard it enough through these news letters.. Look at now, when doing an air marine search & rescue, they pick up someone that’s hurt, out there in Lake Erie either right along the Port Colborne shoreline, or just outside to the East or West of the Port Colborne Shoreline, and Port Colborne Hospital was just perfect for the U.S., or Canadian Coast Guards to find especially if it was helicopters, and now they have to “STRUGGLE & STRIVE” through their G.P.S’s., while up in the air to find Welland Hospital, or bring the people by helicopter down to the landing pad at Port Colborne Hospital, to a ground Ambulance to take them to Welland, is just adding the time on, no different than being in the air trying to find Welland Hospital, especially when the Canadian nor U.S., search & rescue teams are not from this area at all.. Canadian has to come all the way over here from C.F.B. Trenton, ON., and that’s way over on Lake Ontario at the Trent Waterways, and then u get the U.S. Coast Guard from Detroit, actually, and then has to fly to Buffalo, NY., first to get the OK to come into Canada afterall, and that they do, how are they supposed to know where Welland hospital is, especially right off the “BAT” they don’t find out, right off the “BAT” and not neccessarily does the G.P.S’s., help always either, and certainly not dumping the patient off to a ground Ambulance at the landing pad at Port Colborne Hospital, and then being driven off to Welland hospital, most certainly isn’t fair to that patient that got rescued out in the lake, in whatever the activity is it fair to either… That’s altogether just adding on time.
    For Sailors who either come down with a severe illness, or injury off the Great Lakes or Ocean Freighters and either have to be taken by boat to the canal docks to be picked up by Ambulance from there, to be taken to our Port Colborne Hospital, or if there is a helicopter on board the odd coast guard ship that may be in the Port Colborne Navigation vicinity as well could fly the sailors in quick, prompt & directly to our Port Colborne Hospital that it is in the right spot & position of where most of this kind of activity on the water happens..
    Now Niagara Health System NHS puts a “BIG DENT” into that…
    Does this not make the boaters (pleasurewise), & the Great Lakes & Ocean Freighter Sailors come to wonder now, and just how can they always play it safe, when sometimes it can’t be helped, does that not put a fear into their minds as to what do they do when sailing or going boating around the Port Colborne area now… I would begin to think so.. And I’m sure there would be others out there that would agree with me too….
    Also the shipping around of our out-patients trying to get urgent care help, that have had to come from all the way down in St.Catharines, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Niagara Falls & even West Lincoln have to come to Port Colborne Hospital, just the same as Fort Erie’s, and everywhere else just the same… We naturally would go to our most nearby local emergency, and not have to go just where there is more room, even if its clean across to the other side of the Niagara Penninsula.. And that’s just the way it seems to be with our NHS or Niagara Health System now, and I think its a “BLOODY” “SHAME” too.. What we need is a much stronger “PROTESTING” body by getting more people involved at these such rallies that the Yellow Shirts put on, so the more people the more “FORCE” & “POWER” to go against the NHS Niagara Health System, as well as the Ontario Government itself along with the Ontario Government Ministry of Health especially, where if in all the news that I’ve been reading so far is talking about this Private Investigation to the NHS in what they’ve actually & really have been doing to our such local health care sites, is going to have to take much more people to get involved than what we’ve been getting, and that’s why I’m going to pass this on, to as many people nearby to Port Colborne of this piece of news here, and with what myself & the girl prior to me has written altogether as well… And hopefully there will be more attention gained..
    For one thing, we can elect new politicians, and new committee members to our Region as well as especially electing by population our members to our Provincial Legislature but what’s to be cleaned up altogether is going to take more than just an overnight situation.. Because we have a real “HOT POTATO” here, and its going to have to take up quite some time too… We must have to work together, the more people the better


  4. What I would like to know, is what happened in Port Colborne Hospital to have it go from a full service hospital operating in the black to now being minimal service & part of a NHS multi million dollar deficit. Much of the assets including the hospital building were funded by local clubs, from support from the community; and private individuals. Where did the good beds & other hospital equipment go? Some were loaded late at night into trucks? I think they haven’t yet stolen the xray equipment & the breast screening equipment. But there is no Xray person to read the xrays. Now you don’t get quick results, like before. Now xrays are read in Welland, then back to Port may take days or weeks! The new hospital isn’t big enough for St. Catharines. with it’s increasing population. NHS did not prepare, where patients were to be looked after FIRST. Before closing beds, Emergency rooms, & ICU. It didn’t matter how sick patients were, and required 24 hr. monitoring, they shipped them out regardless, my husband was a patient that day. Hospitals are not department stores, where bigger is considered better. Hospitals are built by the people for the people, for medical care; yet patients are being shipped around, as if they were a
    shipment of merchandise; What happened to compassion?
    So many people supported getting Port Hospital, in 1948 it was declared with the population increase in Port Colborne that a hospital was needed, it opened in 1951. The hospital is still needed the population is greater the need is greater. Port hospital has always had a positive impact on Port Colborne. Now the City, the Region, Province and the Federal Government better step in and prevent further Disasters to peoples lives. We are in a windy lakeshore, area with unpredictable storms. That we have no medical service in place for. Welland hospital does not have enough equipment, staff, or beds, & ambulance drivers that don’t know how to get from Port to Welland. So if we have a major storm, many lives will be lost, due to the mismanagement of the Health Services in Niagara. All the hospitals, including Welland needed a bigger hospital, by closing Port Colborne, it made Welland Hospital services greater; thus worse. So get the planning done & the time to ACT is long overdue. Even the Sars ward, is gone- Are rooms ready for multi- patient emergency? NO! There are not enough portable oxygen for the patients or enough wheel chairs, or enough staff. The emergency rooms are backed up when patients trickle in! Wake up & Act fast. Improvements need to happen ASAP! For over 2 years we have lost our health -Why?


    • Linda McKellar

      What happened in Pt. Colborne and the circumstances requiring an ER (at the very least) completely mirror those in Fort Erie and all of the other communities throughout the province who are experiencing the same cutbacks and closures. Strange that this has not been made an issue of greater import in the press but of course the press is owned and controlled by the same people who finance these fiascos.


  5. George Jardine

    Like I said before,we need to launch a class action suit against Dalton Mc.Guinty, Deb. Matthews and the Ministry of Health for denial of services that we are paying for, via Health Tax and payroll taxes, the cities of Welland, Port Colborne and Fort Erie should be united an Election is coming up and these politicians want to safe guard their cushy jobs, St,Catharines Hospitals do not respond to pre natal emergencies 24 hours no doctor available, result birth of a still born baby in the womens washroom at Hotel Dieu this happened to my great grand Jim Bradley does not care about his own hospitals.


  6. Has anyone thought of using the PPSA to put a lien on the properties of these deaf and decidedly dumb gang of persons? Give it some thought. Remember noting gets their attention like hitting them in the pocket.


  7. Angela Browne

    As Bob Dylan sang, “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

    At least two already died because of the emergency room closures. How many more will it take before somebody smartens up about the needs of the people in this region?


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