By Doug Draper
(The following is just a first take on a very complex interim plan for the future of hospital services in Niagara, released by the Ontario appointed supervisor of the Niagara Health System this May 3. Niagara At Large will have more posts, including commentary and comments from residents across the region, in the days ahead.)
Kevin Smith, the provincially appointed supervisor for the Niagara Health System, wants to see the province build a new hospital somewhere in Niagara, Ontario’s southern tier.
If that recommendation, contained in a highly anticipated document called “Interim Report to the Niagara Community on the Restructuring of the Niagara Health System,” unveiled by Smith this May 3 at briefing sessions with municipal leaders and the media, the supervisor said the opening of any new hospital for communities in Niagara’s southern tier would be coupled with the closing of the aging hospitals in Welland and Niagara Falls, and the old hospital sites in Fort Erie and Port Colborne that have already lost the emergency room services that once gave them full hospital status.
Smith said he has also called upon mayors of municipalities in the southern tier, including the mayors of Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Wainfleet, Niagara Falls and Welland, to work together in the days ahead to arrive at some agreement on where a new fully functioning hospital for serving residents across the southern tier should go. He hopes they will arrive at some consensus this June, when he plans to pass final recommendations for reshaping the NHS on to Ontario’s health minister, Deb Matthews.
“I have to say that I am very, very encouraged by the commitment of the mayors (and) I am optimistic that they will come back with something that is unanimous or near unanimous (in terms of a location for a south Niagara hospital),” said Smith.
Asked if the provincial government even has the money to support a new southern tier hospital Smith estimated could cost $850 million or more to build, he said that an analysis he has done concludes that it would be less expensive than trying to upgrade the aging hospital complexes that are serving southern communities now.
Smith’s report was detailed and hit on many issues, including how the NHS is now governed and should be government in the future to make it more responsive to the concerns of the public it serves.
Niagara At Large will post more on the possible ups and downs and rights and wrongs of the recommendations in this report later. We will accept posts by those of you who have some insightful things to comment on, as a matter of fact. In the meantime, you can
view a complete version of the NHS supervisor’s interim report, click on http://www.niagarahealth.on.ca/news/2012/05/03/dr-kevin-smith-presents-new-vision-for-nhs-hospitals .
We are also posting the following statements from NDP Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster, Ontario Conservative Leader and Niagara area riding MPP Tim Hudak and the citizen-based Niagara Health Coalition for your information.
NDP MPP Cindy Forster’s Statement on Niagara Health System
Welland – Families inNiagara have been increasingly frustrated with health care in their communities. They suffered through the closure of two emergency rooms and were let down by the decision to cancel the hospital project inWest Lincoln. As a nurse and former mayor I know first hand the potentially negative impact of “centralizing” services on people’s day-to-day lives.
Health care needs to be there for people when they need it, from Fort Erie toPort Colborne, Wainfleet toWelland, fromThoroldtoNiagara Falls. The recommendations today from the provincially-appointed supervisor Kevin Smith affect everyone. Further consultation is needed and the government must not ignore the concerns of families in theNiagararegion this time.
I’m hoping Niagarafamilies who want to share their thoughts on this with me will email me at email@example.com .
STATEMENT BY NIAGARA WEST-GLANBROOK MPP AND ONTARIO PC LEADER TIM HUDAK
In response to the NHS announcement today regarding hospital care in Niagara, Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak issued the following statement
“I want to ensure that families inNiagarahave access to the best health care in the world. Sadly this is not the case inNiagaratoday. For nine years people, medical professionals, municipal leaders, and families in Niagara have been neglected by the current government – and seen emergency rooms at Fort Erie andPort Colborneclose. Niagararesidents have lost all confidence in the NHS – which has become a complete mess. In the past the NHS has refused to listen to any community input in making these decisions. That cannot be allowed to happen again. I want to hear what those people who depend on these hospitals have to say about today’s announcement and ensure that any decisions made are based on merit, not on politics.”
Democratic Board, Protection of Emergency & Patient Services,
and Answers to Key Questions A “Must”:
Health Coalition on Niagara Hospital Consolidation Proposal
The Ontario and Niagara Health Coalitions will be consulting with our members across Niagara in developing our response to government-appointed hospital supervisor Kevin Smith’s recommendation to close five hospital sites and consolidate services into one site for south Niagara.
We are pleased that Kevin Smith has recognized the need to seriously address the lack of public confidence in the NHS leadership, the issues regarding staff morale, and the need for a patient transportation system, particularly for those with chronic illness, low income, and mental health issues.
However, the coalition raised red flags about several elements of Smith’s recommendations, including:
- With these recommendations, Kevin Smith and the McGuinty government are continuing their trend of trying to wipe out democratically elected hospital boards and replace them with appointed boards. Under the guise of “skills-based boards” – a red-herring – they are setting up a system in which CEOs can easily dominate the boards and have less accountability to communities. This system of undemocratic unaccountable boards has aided the growth of tiers of administration while enabling cuts to patient services. Until the NHS was created, each Niagara community with a hospital had an elected board that answered to the community. In fact, Ontario has, until recent years, a long history of elected boards and the government has never gone to the legislature for approval to wipe out democracy in this way.
- In addition, Kevin Smith recommends that the new hospital, which would result in the closure of four hospitals in south Niagara and one in Niagara-On-the-Lake, be under the governance of the NHS with a new appointed board. From our public consultations to date, we have heard loudly and clearly that the NHS is not supported by the public in those communities.
- We have sought clarification as to whether the new South Niagara hospital will have an emergency department in addition to the free-standing urgent care centre that is proposed. This must be clarified. The proposal from Kevin Smith is to close down two emergency departments in Welland and Niagara Falls. Both of these emergency departments are extremely busy. In addition, the two urgent care centres in Port Colborne and Fort Erie would be closed to be replaced with one freestanding urgent care centre (location not yet determined). Questions regarding access to emergency and urgent care services need to be answered.
- It appears that the plan is to close the complex continuing care beds and clinics in the Niagara-On-the –Lake site. In addition, the complex continuing care beds in Port Colborne and Fort Erie would be closed. Given how few beds the new St. Catharines hospital will contain, we are concerned about a bed shortage, particularly for patients who require complex longer-term care. There are already too few long-term care beds in the region and care levels are insufficient in long-term care homes to provide care for high-needs and complex patients that continue to be downloaded into long term care.
- It also appears that critical care would be reduced from three sites to two with the proposed closure of Welland and GNGH. We need clarification as to how patient access would be preserved in this model.
- In addition, Kevin Smith was supposed to review the “Hospital Improvement Plan” (HIP). There is no mention of the review of the HIP in his interim report, a review that the public has been waiting for. We are seeking information as to what has happened with this review.
(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views, just so long as you attach your real name to them, below.)