By Doug Draper
How willing would the provincial government actually be to approve the building of a new hospital in south Niagara?
Ontario’ health minister Deb Matthews told Niagara representatives this May 28 that she’s not prepared to begin providing an answer to that question until they can provide her with more assurance that a new hospital is what their communities want and with a proposal on where that hospital should go.
“She made it clear that (the idea of a new hospital for Niagara’s southern tier) is not pie in the sky,” said Niagara Mayor, who attended the meeting with Matthews during the annual ‘Niagara Week’ in Toronto, “but she wants to be real that that this is what we and our communities want, and she wants a suggested location.”
Diodati, who met Matthews with Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe, Niagara regional chair Gary Burroughs, Niagara Falls regional councillors Barbara Greenwood and Selina Volpatti, and Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman, said that despite leaving with no iron-clad guarantee from the minister that the province would approve a new hospital for Niagara’s southern tier, he was pleased with the way the meeting went.
“I feel that it was a positive meeting,” the mayor said. “Overall it was worthwhile.”
Diodati and Sharpe, along with Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey, Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin and Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs have been holding ongoing meetings of their own since early this May when Kevin Smith, the provincially appointed supvervisor for the Niagara Health System, asked them to see if they could reach some consensus on the idea of building a new hospital and on where it should be located in south Niagara. The new facility, said Smith, would replace aging hospitals in Welland, Niagara Falls, and what are left of the hospitals in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Fort Erie, and Port Colborne.
In a draft report Smith released this May on making changes to a Niagara Health System that has drawn years of public criticism, he reasoned that building a new hospital in the southern tier that could cost more than $850 million would be less expensive than trying to upgrade and operate five older sites.
At least some Niagara residents believe Smith is only putting forward the new hospital idea as a “smoke screen” that will never materialize – all in an attempt dampen the anger and concern many have expressed over the decision the old NHS board made years ago to build a major hospital complex (now under completion) in west St. Catharines rather than in a more central, and to ultimately move most of the acute care services in the region there. Residents in Port Colborne and Fort Erie have already seen the emergency rooms at their hospitals converted to urgent care facilities that will no longer accept people suffering heart attacks, strokes or other life-threatening maladies.
Diodati said he and other Niagara representatives stressed to Matthews at the May 28 meeting that they will not accept more care services being transferred to the hospital complex being opened next year in west St. Catharines while residents wait for approval and construction of a new hospital in south Niagara – something Smith said could take at least six years.
Smith has given the south Niagara mayors until June 15 to come to him with agreement on his recommendation for a new hospital and with a proposal from them on a location for it.
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