A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted May 10th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Niagara Falls city council has made a multi-million-dollar bet that the provincial government will, indeed, follow through on a now four and a half-year old pledge to build a new ‘south Niagara hospital in the southwest end of the city.
This May 9th, all but one of the city’s councillors approved paying $11 million to purchase an additional 20 acres of land from what Niagara’s mainstream media identifies as ‘a Toronto area business family’ that already donated 30 acres of land off Montrose Road near the QEW for what was promised in 2013 by Niagara Health (then called the Niagara Health System or NHS, for short)) and provincial government as a new hospital for populations of people living in Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Welland, Port Colborne and Wainfleet.
The promise of a new “south Niagara hospital’ was made in the wake protests by many residents in the region’s south end that the NHS and province went ahead with plans to build a mega hospital in west St. Catharines rather than in a place more central for all Niagara residents, while at the same time phasing out or proposing to phase out acute care and other services in hospitals in Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Welland and an aging hospital in Niagara Falls.
The problem is that many people in Niagara Falls and municipalities in the region’s south end continue to express doubts that another new hospital in in Niagara (one in the southwest end of Niagara Falls following the one now up and running in west St. Catharines) will likely never be built in their lifetimes because it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that the province and other levels of government would be hard-pressed to scare up with all the other demands their budgets face.
Nevertheless, a buoyant looking Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told the council this May 9th that he has seen a line in the budget the Ontario government tabled this spring that convinces him a new hospital at the southwest end site is going to happen.
Not nearly so convinced it is going to happen is Carolynn Ioannoni, a veteran Niagara Falls councillor who was a loud voice a decade ago for a new mega-hospital in a more central location for all Niagara residents, and who was the lone holdout this May 9th when it came to approving the purchase of the 20 acres of additional land.
Niagara Health (the body responsible for all hospital operations in the region) and the province reportedly told the city a year ago that another 20 acres of land is now needed on top of the 30 acres donated to make sure there is enough room for expanding or building new hospital facilities on the site when the proposed hospital now on the table runs its course some 30 or more years down the line.
Ioannoni said she’s in no away opposed to seeing a new hospital built but she would rather see the city only commit to investing the $11 million on the land if plans for the hospital actually go ahead. She doesn’t want to see taxpayers on the hook for land purchased for far more than another party for the city recently appraised it for if the province decides to abandon the hospital plan.
There are other documents relevant to the project, including a Memorandum of Understanding the city’s mayor reportedly signed last year with the land owner, that councillors either haven’t seen or have only now been made available, Ioannoni said, adding that “I want to be able to vote informed.”
Kim Craitor, another city council and former Niagara Falls MPP for the current Ontario government, expressed reluctance over the land purchase but said he fears that the way the whole system for building new hospitals in the province is set up, Niagara Falls and other municipalities in the region’s south end may see any opportunity to get the hospital disappear if the council doesn’t vote ‘yes’ to the additional 20 acres.
Craitor may very well be right about that. There are plenty of other communities around the province, including West Lincoln and Grimsby, wanting a new hospital and are willing to do whatever they can to get one.
But now this reporter, who spent years, covering the controversy over building the new hospital in west St. Catharines, will leave you with just a few things to consider.
There is no doubt a lot of pressure from some politicians and private business interests to move forward with a new hospital in the southwest end of Niagara Falls because there are developers anxious to build in this area, including a China-based corporation that now has its sights on 500 acres of land in the so ‘called Thundering Waters Forest area for a mix of residential and commercial buildings.
A brand new hospital in the area would obviously be a good selling point for drawing residents and businesses and would certainly increase the value of the land.
That may be good for the developers but what about the larger issue of a new hospital for south Niagara?
We’ve already got a new hospital in west St. Catharines that has cost a billion dollars or so, and now we are looking at building another one in Niagara Falls that may cost a billion or so more.
And what if that Niagara Falls hospital does get built and Niagara Health and the province decide that that’s it. Populations in Niagara south now have their new hospital so we can go ahead and shut down whatever is left of the hospital services in Welland and other sites in the south end.
My bet is that you will continue to have a third or more of the Niagara region’s population feeling cheated and pushing for a third new hospital in Welland or somewhere else in the south end.
Would it not possibly make more sense to forget about a new hospital that pretends to be a hospital for south Niagara in the southwest end of Niagara Falls and spend whatever hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to modernize the existing hospitals in Niagara Falls and Welland?
What do you think.
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