The Easter Bunny Will Show Up At Our Doors With A Basket Of Painted Eggs Before We See Another New Hospital Built Anywhere In Niagara’s Central Or Southern Tier In the Foreseeable Future
A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted February 29th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Ontario’s Liberal government announced with fanfare this February 29th that its recently tabled budget for 2016 includes an additional $345 million for the operation and upkeep of the province’s publicly funded hospitals.
That may sound like a lot of extra money but if you were to divide it up between the 154 hospitals currently operating in Ontario, it doesn’t amount to much more than putting a Band-Aid to someone in danger of hemorrhaging to death from multiple lacerations.
It adds up to less than $3 million extra dollars per hospital to be exact – around half of the $4.9 million in additional funding the province granted West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the Niagara municipality of Grimsby two years ago this winter to upgrade its fire alarm, intercom, plumping, electrical, and cooling and heading systems, and to repair some of its walls and floors.
Never mind enough funding to build a new hospital in Grimsby, which is what the people of that area have really been wanting for years.
And speaking of new hospitals, there’s no word yet – at least not one that I’ve heard – that the provincial government has found a half a billion dollars or more it can spare any time soon for building another hospital in Niagara. Not after it has already shelled out more than that to open a spanking new super-hospital a mere three years ago in the north end of Niagara in west St. Catharines.
It was with much fanfare two years ago that a group of Niagara municipal leaders gathered in the southwest end of Niagara Falls, in a wooded area near Lyon’s Creek Road and the QEW highway, for the unveiling of a large billboard sign marking the near the “future site of the Niagara South hospital.”
The idea for yet another new hospital was announced some months earlier by Kevin Smith, the CEO of the Niagara Health System responsible for operating the region’s amalgamated hospital and emergency care services, only a year after the mega-hospital was opened in March of 2013 in St. Catharines’ west end. It was a response to the anger many in Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie, Port Colorne and Wainfleet expressed to plans already underway to pull services into the new St. Catharines site from aging hospitals serving those municipalities.
The idea of another new hospital for Niagara South seemed to please enough politicians and people they served in the southern tier to divide, if not completely snuff out the public opposition the Niagara Health System had been facing to almost every move it made since it was created by the province more than a decade ago.
Yet at least some in the region, this commentator included, remain skeptical that anyone will see another new hospital built in Niagara – at least not one paid for with public money – for many years to come.
It is a skepticism that, for me at least, has not waned in the wake of comments made, as recently as last November, by Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati to a mainstream newspaper in the region that he “anticipate(s) some form of groundbreaking” by the end of this year.
In all due respect to Diodati, it is hard to believe there is going to be some form of groundbreaking for another new hospital in Niagara at the end of this year or any year within the foreseeable future. The only possible exception is a new hospital that people in the West Lincoln, Grimsby and Lincoln areas have been wanting for many years now to replace the aged West Lincoln Memorial Hospital site.
I don’t think a new hospital for Niagara South is going to happen any time soon for some of the following reasons.
First, the new hospital that opened in the north end of Niagara three years ago was the result of at least two decades of municipal and hospital officials from the region standing in line with other regions across Ontario to get approval for a new hospital.
A groundbreaking for it certainly didn’t come after four or five years or even 10 or 15 years of lobbying and planning for it, and that line is still there with many other regions in Ontario still wanting the provincial government’s approval for a new hospital.
Given that, it is very hard to imagine that the province is going to come back and say something like; ‘Look, we know we have just recently worked in partnership with Niagara and private partners to build a new mega-hospital in the region at a cost of more than $1 billion, but let’s move ahead quickly and spend hundreds of millions more on another one.’
‘Can you imagine how that would go over with all those regions in Ontario still waiting for their turn for a new hospital? Can you image how that would go over in the West Lincoln area that has been waiting for a greenlight from the province for many years and may now never get it because that area is now located between large hospitals in the Hamilton area and the new one in west St. Catharines.
The province can make a strong case that Niagara already got a 21st century super-hospital and it is not the province’s fault that a majority of hospital administrators and municipal leaders in the region decided to locate it in the north end rather than in a more central location where residents in Niagara’s southern tier would have easier access to it.
Second, the Ontario government, like all provincial governments across the country, is strapped for money after decades of cutting taxes and spending blunders in other areas, and there isn’t much money around for new hospitals – especially at a time when most of the health care world in Canada and the United States is moving away from the kind of hospital-based care that was the preferred way of treating patients with more serious health problems in the last century.
Third, (and this is very much related to the decision on the part of a majority of regional councillors and the old Debbie Sevenpifer board of the Niagara Health System, with the blessing of most of the mainstream media in the region, to put the new hospital in the north end rather than somewhere more central), the idea announced by the post Sevenpifer board of building another new hospital for the southern tier was very much a response to public anger over that decision.
People in the south end were told by Sevenpifer and her board that the Niagara Health System was “committed” to keeping their local hospitals functioning. And when it became clear that the Niagara Health System that was going to do what its internal consultant documents recommended from the very start (documents that were leaked to the media but most of the media failed to report on, by the way) and move a critical mass of care services from the old hospitals to the new one, anger in the southern tier grew and the post Sevenpifer board responded by saying; ‘Okay, let’s look at a new hospital for you too.’
It’s as if the Niagara Health System and at least some of our municipal leaders in Niagara Falls, Welland and other communities in Niagara south are now saying; ‘Okay, let’s now see if we can turn two wrongs into a right. We never should have put the one and only new hospital we were going to get for this region in the north end in the first place, so now let’s see if we can persuade the province to invest in another new one closer to the south.’
I don’t think I’m going out too far on a limb to predict that it isn’t going to happen any time soon.
We are more likely to see a real rabbit show up at our door with a basket full of painted eggs this Easter than see another new hospital built in Niagara for the foreseeable future.
That is why it would make far more sense not to get distracted by the fantasy of another new hospital, and spend more time, energy and money lobbying the Niagara Health System and provincial government to save, upgrade and expand on services at what are left of the existing hospitals in Niagara Falls and Welland.
To go on chasing the fantasy of another new hospital down the rabbit hole could mean that people in Niagara’s southern tier continue to see what hospital services they have left moved to the one and only new hospital we have in the north end.
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