How far will new hospital funding go to offer  south Niagara health care sites a stay of execution?

And will a new south Niagara hospital ever get built?

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted July 12th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – This July 11th, Jim Bradley, the Ontario government’s veteran MPP for the north Niagara riding of St. Catharines, joined Niagara Health system representatives in announcing more than $1.6 million in additional funding to upgrade the system’s aged sites in the region’s south end, including the 57-year-old Welland Hospital.

St. Catharines’ Liberal MPP Jim Bradley (centre) joins representatives of Niagara Health, the region’s amalgamated hospital system, this June 11th for funding announcement. Photo from Niagara Health news release.

“By investing in renewing hospital infrastructure, the provincial government is helping to ensure our hospitals can continue to meet the needs of patients in comfortable, healthy and safe facilities for many years to come,” said Bradley during a gathering of Niagara Health representatives at the system’s newest and largest hospital site in St. Catharines.

“This investment brings the total to more than $8.5 million in Hospital Infrastructure Renewal Funding in the last four years which was used for building maintenance and upgrade projects,” added Angela Zangari, Niagara Health’s Executive Vice-President Finance and Operations and Chief Financial Officer. “Thank you MPP Bradley and our partners at the LHIN (Local Health Integration) for your ongoing support of healthcare in the region, and for working with us towards our vision of a Healthier Niagara.”

Left unsaid was any mention of the next provincial election, now less than a year away,  and any possibility that announcements like this may help the governing Liberals draw votes away from Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats as they face, what is shaping up to be, a tough, heavily funded fight with Patrick Brown’s Conservatives.

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s “election strategy is clear,”  observes R. Michael Warren, a retired Ontario deputy minister and Canada Post CEO, in an opinion piece posted recently in the mainstream media. “She has decided to outflank the left-leaning NDP with a host of social and economic policy promises aimed at helping the province’s economically excluded. … It’s an attempt to rebuild popularity with activist policies designed to bring greater fairness to our society.”

The aging Welland hospital site many south Niagara residents have been fighting to save. file photo by Doug Draper

And with that outflanking mission in mind, why not throw in some funds for south Niagara health care sites, including the Welland hospital which Horwath’s NDP, including Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster, have spent years calling on Wynne’s Liberals to save.

According to a story in a June 12th edition of one of the region’s daily newspapers, the Wynnne government’s funding announcement for upgrades at the Niagara Health sites in Welland, Port Colborne, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls should allow them to properly operate on, with the services they currently offer, for at least the next seven years – about the time, said Zangari, it will take for a new south Niagara hospital to be built.

Pardon me if I remain sceptical, but I continue to side with what I believe are far more than a few Niagara residents who doubt we’ll see any provincial government – Liberal, Conservative or NDP -find the more than half a billion dollars it will take to build another new hospital in this region in the next 20 or 30 years – never mind seven. Not  when the province has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the mega hospital in St. Catharines, and when so many other regions in Ontario have been lined up for years for a new hospital.

I say this despite all the excitement Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and others expressed when Wynne’s Liberals included an expression of commitment to building that fabled south Niagara hospital – planned for a site in the southwest corner of Diodati’s municipality, by the way – in the budget they tabled this past spring.

Whatever pre- election politics may be coming into play with keeping the dream of another new hospital in Niagara alive, or with the recent latest, June 11th announcement of funds for upgrades at the Welland and other aging sites in south Niagara, how assuring will any of this really be for residents in the region’s southern tier – for residents who, as I read it, want the province to come forward with a plan that offers some realistic assurance that they will have quality hospital services within ready access of their neighbourhoods and communities for generations to come.

In that spirit, wouldn’t it be refreshing if the Wynne government said something to south Niagara residents like; ‘Look, we know how angry you were when, more than a decade ago, the Niagara Health system decided it was a good idea to build a new mega-hospital in Niagara’s north end and then began closing services at hospitals in your communities.’

This billboard stands in a rural area of Niagara Falls where a new hospital for south Niagara has been promised.

‘Our government responded to that anger five or so years ago with the idea of building another new hospital in Niagara that would be more accessible to your communities than the one just built in the north end.’

‘But given the realities we face today; with the finite number of dollars available to us for building hospitals for regions across Ontario that, in some cases, have been waiting for a new hospital for many years; with the continued shift away from hospital-based health care across North America, it no longer makes any sense (if it ever did) from an economic point of view and from a health care planning point of view, to build another new hospital at a site at least some south Niagara residents in communities like Welland and Port Colborne don’t even view as that accessible to them.”

“It might make far more sense, given the realities we face now, to spend a few hundred million dollars updating and expanding the existing Niagara Falls and Welland hospitals for the 21st century, rather than spending closer to a billion dollars for a new one out in the woods somewhere near the south western boundaries of Niagara Falls.’

If the government offered up something like that, it would no doubt anger some people, but it might make far more sense and gain far more support among a greater number of south Niagara residents in the long run.

What do you think?

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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2 responses to “How far will new hospital funding go to offer  south Niagara health care sites a stay of execution?

  1. The signage needs to be changed to what the proposed site truly represents “Niagara Falls General Hospital” or more correctly”The hospital to correct the location error of the St Catharines hospital”.
    The site for the new hospital is located in the most extreme north east corner of South Niagara Region. Other than the QEW connection from Fort Erie there is no convenient connection from the other parts of the region to be served. Like the St Catharines hospital the proposed site is a money grabber for NHS for parking fees _ I doubt there will be free parking.

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  2. Aren’t we all getting tired of this nonsense?
    The future of NHS hospital services was an issue in the last provincial election and it’s shaping up to be on the platform for at least two of Niagara’s four ridings in the 2018 election.
    Watch for the PC candidate for Niagara Centre to tell voters that a Patrick Brown government would keep open the Welland General. Sure he would — for a while. But the PCs want the Niagara Falls riding, too, so they’re hardly likely to scuttle promises of a new Niagara South Hospital, are they? Ditto the NDP. And then there are the municipal elections to look forward to…and we’ll see certain mayoral candidates strutting around taking credit for “saving” hospitals and/or providing new ones in their respective municipalities.
    The fact remains that nobody seems to know what ultimately informs decisions made at Queen’s Park on where healthcare infrastructure dollars are to be spent. One thing we can be sure of: more spin and political posturing to come.
    Me? I’m tuning out. I’ve been through this one just too many times.

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