By Doug Draper
Ontario’s no-nonsense Ombudsman Andre Marin should be the one heading up an investigation of the Niagara Health System and the way it has been managing the region’s hospitals, says Niagara Falls NDP candidate Wayne Redekop.
“What we need is an independent investigation and the perfect person to do that investigation is the ombudsman, who has a record for cutting through all of the government nonsense,” added Redekop, a former mayor of Fort Erie who is running in this fall’s provincial election and who was speaking at a media conference the Niagara Regional Labour Council held in Welland this August 30 on health care concerns in the region.
All that the people of Niagara got from Ontario’s governing Liberal Party, said Redekop, was the recent promise of “a review” of the NHS in the hope it may take the heat off its members, including Liberal MPP Kim Craitor, who had been calling for an investigation of the NHS for some time.
The review, called for by the province’s health minister, Deb Matthews, earlier this summer following many months of pressure from municipal leaders across the region, has not yet begun. Representatives for the NHS and Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network (the LHIN body established by the province for overseeing health care services in Niagara and surrounding regions), along with Niagara’s regional chairman, Gary Burroughs, Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey and Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin establish the terms of reference for the review.
Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe, who also spoke at the media conference, said Burroughs, Badawey and Martin are pushing for terms of reference that focus on a broad range of concerns and he remains confident the trio will succeed.
Cindy Forster, a former Welland mayor and a regional councillor for the city who is now running as the NDP candidate in a Welland Riding that includes Thorold, Port Colborne, Wainfleet and parts of south St. Catharines, said services in NHS-run hospitals are suffering “a death by a thousand cuts” with the erosion of more and more front-line staff. More money needs to be put in the system, added Forster who is also a registered nurse, to ensure there is the staff necessary to provide quality care to patients.
A system with enough resources to serve patients well is what’s needed to restore public confidence, Forster said. “I certainly don’t believe you get confidence by hiring a consultant to spin the message. Confidence starts at the front door.”
Anthony Marco, the NDP candidate in the Niagara-West Glanbrook riding, said he fears that making the hospital system more efficient to save money is being placed ahead of providing adequate care to people. “We are not talking about systems and machines here,” he said. “We are talking about people. Marco said when he sees the huge salaries administrators at the NHS get, he wonders how many more nurses and other support staff could be brought in for that kind of money.
Marty Parker, a regional manager for the Service Employees Union representing some of the front-line staff in the hospital system, said staff warned the NHS for years that cleanliness and infection control were breaking down in its hospitals as it brought in a private contractor from the United States to do the cleaning, but NHS administrators would not listen. The recent deadly outbreak of a highly infectious C. difficile superbug that has so far claimed the lives of over 30 people in the hospitals, did not have to happen, he said.
Speakers at the media conference also discussed the need for an elected hospital board with more accountability to the public to replace the appointed one now there. They also discussed the possibility of splitting up the NHS into two or more boards representing the north, south, east and west areas of the region.
Sue Hotte, a representative of the Niagara Health Coalition, a citizens group that recently held a series of town halls across the region on health care, said that with a provincial election looming this October 6, it is important for Niagara residents to ask candidates “very pointed questions with respect to health care” and to make sure they vote.
The Niagara coalition, affiliated with the Toronto-based Ontario Health Coalition, is also encouraging as many residents in the region as possible to join it at a health care rally to take place on the lawns of Queen’s Park on September 13 at 12 noon. Anyone interested can call 289 271-6581 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about free bus transportation from various locations in Niagara to the Queen’s Park rally. People outside of Niagara can find out about bus transportation in their regions by emailing email@example.com or calling 416 441-2502.
By the way, members of the media asked an organizer of the August 30 media conference if representatives of the NHS and candidates for the Liberal and Conservative parties were offered an opportunity to participate in the media conference, and they were not.
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