Health coali­tion ‘hope­ful’ prov­ince lis­ten­ing

Pub­lic hear­ing planned for Oct. 21 in North Bay

North Bay Nugget - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LAN BENNER

While there’s still room for im­prove­ment, Natalie Mehra says the On­tario govern­ment seems to be re­spond­ing to con­cerns about hospi­tals across the prov­ince.

“I feel hope­ful,” says Mehra, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the On­tario Health Coali­tion, a group of ac­tivists work­ing to im­prove the pub­lic health-care sys­tem.

Mehra says the or­ga­ni­za­tion had a hope­ful sign that the Lib­eral govern­ment is lis­ten­ing in late May.

Af­ter a Wel­land Day of Ac­tion or­ga­nized by the group at Queen’s Park on May 31, Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins twice said he would work to keep that com­mu­nity’s hospi­tal open, de­spite a pre­vi­ous plan to re­place it with a sin­gle new hospi­tal built in Ni­a­gara Falls to re­place ex­ist­ing hospi­tals in both Wel­land and Ni­a­gara Falls.

Mehra called it “ex­cel­lent news,” adding that the health coali­tion sent Hoskins a let­ter last week, ask­ing for more in­for­ma­tion about plans to keep Wel­land’s hospi­tal open.

“Ob­vi­ously, if the min­is­ter is try­ing his hard­est that means the hospi­tal will stay open. We want to know of­fi­cially what the plan is,” she says.

Hop­ing to con­tinue that mo­men­tum, the coali­tion is or­ga­niz­ing a se­ries of hear­ings on health care in com­mu­ni­ties across the prov­ince.

One will be held in North Bay from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Royal Cana­dian Le­gion Branch 23, 150 First Av­enue W.

De­spite her re­cent op­ti­mism, Mehra says there are still problems that need to be ad­dressed.

“At this point, On­tario has seen the worst cuts to pub­lic hospi­tals of any ju­ris­dic­tion we could find,” she says. “We have the fewest beds in the coun­try per capita by far. It’s not even in the ball park.”

By giv­ing peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ences and con­cerns about health care dur­ing the hear­ings, Mehra hopes to con­tinue mak­ing progress.

The OHC plans to put those sto­ries to­gether in a re­port that will be pre­sented to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, along with rec­om­men­da­tions.

Mehra says the last time the or­ga­ni­za­tion held a se­ries of com­mu­nity hear­ings, it re­ceived 597 sub­mis­sions that formed the ba­sis of a re­port with “con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions” for the prov­ince.

“And we stopped the clo­sures. It was very ef­fec­tive. We feel that lead­ing into an elec­tion, it could be even more ef­fec­tive,” she says.

“We find that when we’re try­ing to change pub­lic pol­icy the most ef­fec­tive thing we’ve done is to blow some fresh democ­racy into the room and force the govern­ment to have to lis­ten to the peo­ple.”

Stan behal/PoST­media NeT­work

Natalie Mehra , ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the On­tario Health Coali­tion, speaks to the Toronto Sun's editorial board.

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