By Sue Salzer
Kevin Smith and the Niagara Health System he was appointed by the provincial government to supervise have polarized residents and politicians in Niagara, Ontario’s southern tier this past week with headlines proclaiming the possibility of a new hospital to serve south Niagara.
The idea of a new hospital for the southern tier holds some promise. But in reality it is futuristic and will join the lengthy list of requests for new hospital facilities from all across the province, some of which have been gathering dust at the Ministry of Health for years while they await approval and funding.
What is really needed immediately here in Niagara are common sense adjustments immediately to a system in distress. The Niagara Health System’s so-called “Hospital Improvement Plan” has, for the more than three years it has been the NHS’s roadmap for restructuring our hospital services has created chaos and systemic problems that have yet to be addressed.
Every day in Fort Erie a family encounters a situation where the need for a 911 call for an ambulance is necessary. It could be a life threatening medical emergency or the need for medical intervention requiring Emergency Room intervention or other hospital treatment. Every story is different except for the need for that stretcher and a transporting ambulance.
The loss of Fort Erie’ Douglas Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room, Operating Rooms and medical beds is a well-publicized story. One of biggest losses to Fort Erie’s 30,000 residents is the ability for ambulances to attend the urgent care centre and other remaining services at the hospital. For the past two-and-a-half years, every 911 call results in transport of the patient to the overcrowded Niagara Falls system.
Last month our family was able to keep my husband in Fort Erie for the last three days of his life by having him transported by private ambulance. Had we called 911 he would have had a Niagara Falls death certificate. Just another unnecessary Fort Erie case to crowd into the Niagara Falls system.
Most recently we again encountered the need to make a decision to call 911 or look for an alternative stretcher transport. My 93-year-old father, who became partially paralysed from a stroke five years ago, suffered a fall. As a result of severe arm and shoulder pain our kind family doctor made a home visit and advised my parents an x-ray would be necessary. Thus a dilemma. As my father could not be transported by car to our Fort Erie urgent care centre to be x-rayed, a stretcher would be necessary.
Rather than suffer an ambulance trip to join the ER lines in Niagara Falls, we again chose to pay OPT (Ontario Patient Transfer) Hamilton for the five minute ride to Douglas Memorial. A very quiet scenario greeted us and in less than 15 minutes the x-ray was completed and read. Subsequently, he was admitted and another 15 minutes had him tucked into a bed where he was cared for by three warm and solicitous nurses.
I am sharing our family’s experiences are shared in an attempt to further encourage the Niagara Health System to approach the simplistic problems that can and must be resolved now and not only for us, but for many other residents in the southern tier who are likely facing similar challenges receiving the health care services they need in their communities and not somewhere at the other end of the region.
There are common sense resolutions that would be cost efficient and offer best case scenarios for patients and families, and above all bring some relief to the over-crowded emergency and other acute-care services at the hospital in Niagara Falls. Allow the under-utilized Douglas Memorial Hospital to once again be able to provide more services to the Fort Erie area and in turn bring relief to other overburdened systems.
Take care of the small things and the larger picture will improve.
Sue Salzer is a Fort Ere, Ontario resident, head of the Yellow Shirt Brigade, a citizen’s group fighting for fair access to quality hospital care for all Niagara residents, and a past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large.
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