Health coali­tion wants to hear from Ni­a­gara

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NEWS - AL­LAN BENNER STAN­DARD STAFF

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

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

For in­stance, she said plans have been in the works to close Ni­a­gara’s smaller hos­pi­tals for years.

“The doors of those hos­pi­tals are still open,” she added. “As long as the doors are open, there’s al­ways a chance of im­prov­ing ser­vices and so on.”

Hop­ing to con­tinue that mo­men­tum, the On­tario Health Coali­tion is or­ga­niz­ing a se­ries of hear­ings on health care in com­mu­ni­ties across the prov­ince, with two meet­ings planned for Ni­a­gara this week­end.

Angela Zan­gari, Ni­a­gara Health’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion will “con­tinue work­ing with and lis­ten­ing to com­mu­nity mem­bers, who are im­por­tant part­ners in our work to im­prove ac­cess to care and achieve the best pos­si­ble out­comes and ex­pe­ri­ences for all Ni­a­gara res­i­dents.”

“We are fully com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing com­pre­hen­sive health care ser­vices in Ni­a­gara Falls and Wel­land and are work­ing to­wards this goal,” she said.

Mehra said the or­ga­ni­za­tion also 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 the 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.

“I un­der­stand the im­por­tance of that com­mu­nity hos­pi­tal to the com­mu­nity and I will do ev­ery­thing I can to work with my min­istry and with the com­mu­nity to keep Wel­land open. That is my com­mit­ment,” Hoskins said in the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture. “That is what we have been work­ing to­wards.”

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 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 said.

“We haven’t pushed it over the top yet, but we have moved col­lec­tively. I’m not try­ing to take all the credit. It’s ev­ery­one from the may­ors to the com­mu­nity cam­paign, ev­ery­one has def­i­nitely pushed the is­sue and changed the con­ver­sa­tion quite a bit. I think there’s hope there.”

Mehra said 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 said. “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 — in­clud­ing one at Wel­land Com­mu­nity Well­ness Com­plex at 10 a.m. on Saturday, fol­lowed by a sec­ond hear­ing at St. Catharines Pub­lic Li­brary at 1 p.m. — 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 said the last time the or­ga­ni­za­tion held a se­ries of com­mu­nity hear­ings, they 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 said.

“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,” Mehra said. ABen­ner@post­media.com twit­ter.com/aben­ner1

EMILY MOUNTNEY/POST­MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Natalie Mehra, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the On­tario Health Coali­tion, speaks dur­ing an Our TMH Rally in Novem­ber 2015 in Tren­ton, Ont.

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