While Wallaceburg’s hospital is set to be the focus tonight at the UAW Hall starting at 5 p.m., it was also a topic of discussion during question period at Queen’s Park on Monday.
France Gélinas, a New Democratic Party MPP in Nickel Belt, questioned the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne and the health minister Eric Hoskins about the future of Wallaceburg’s hospital.
“Today, residents from Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nation are here,” Gélinas, who is the Health Critic, said during question period.
“They’re here to save their local hospital and keep their emergency department open. They’ve agreed to the 700-kilometre drive to Queen’s Park because they refuse to let the Liberals close another hospital in southwestern Ontario. They know full well that once the emergency department is the gone, once the big blue ‘H’ is gone from that building, so is their hospital. Why won’t the Premier do the right thing and stop any plan to close the emergency department and the Sydenham District Hospital in Wallaceburg?”
Wynne responded by saying there are no plans to close the ER in Wallaceburg.
“I understand the concern that has been raised by the community because of some rumours about the potential closure of the emergency department at Sydenham District Hospital,” the Premier said.
“I want to assure the community, and this is important, that there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital’s emergency department. Even that contention is not accurate. I understand when there are rumours in communities, that can cause some upheaval, but there is no truth to that rumour. There is no plan to close the hospital’s emergency department.”
Gélinas countered by saying the Premier needs to listen to the people of Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nation.
“She needs to understand what cuts to health care mean to families in southwestern Ontario,” Gélinas said.
“The Wallaceburg Health Coalition is still very worried that those rumours will become reality, because
this is what we have seen over and over in other communities. What will that mean? It will mean 20,000 people don’t have access to emergency care without having to drive over an hour to an hour and a half.”
Gélinas added: “After all the cuts to Wallaceburg hospital, if the emergency was to close, so will the hospital. This is not the only community that’s facing these deep cuts; there are many others. Will the Premier stop cutting hospital services that families and communities depend on?”
Hoskins, who issued a statement earlier in the day about Wallaceburg’s hospital, reiterated Wynne’s comments and his earlier statement.
“I too want to reassure the community that there are absolutely no plans to alter or close their emergency department,” Hoskins said. “This is an issue where it is a rumour. It’s been generated locally. In fact, the LHIN has never asked for or received any ideas for such a closure. The ministry has never been involved in discussions concerning a possible closure.”
Hoskins added: “What it does is it points to the necessity that the local board of the local hospital and the Alliance, which is comprised of more than one hospital in that area, work with their community; that they are honest, open and transparent about what their aim is to provide the best-quality patient care.”
Hoskins said there has been no discussion with the LHIN and no discussion with the ministry.
“This is purely a local issue. I hope and I implore the member opposite that she doesn’t contribute to this rumour mongering and get the people in the community even more anxious,” he said.
Gélinas pointed out a number of cuts to healthcare across Ontario.
“You’ll have to forgive those good people, but when they go around and see that 169 registered nurses were cut in Windsor; 136 staff were cut at St. Joe’s in Hamilton; 18 nurses were cut at Bluewater in Sarnia; 68 jobs were gone from the hospital in Kitchener; beds closed and more than 120 full-time positions were cut in London; deep cuts at St. Thomas Elgin hospital and that’s only since January 1, 2016. It makes people really nervous.”
Gélinas added: “The good people of Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nations are worried that they could lose their hospital. They’re also worried of all of the service cuts happening in southwestern Ontario.”
Hoskins responded to Gélinas’ comments, saying he finds it “regrettable” that Gélinas would use this
“local rumour and exploit it” for broader political purposes.
“The truth is that we’re providing this year an additional $2 million to the Alliance, which includes the Sydenham hospital; that’s a 2% increase in their funding,” Hoskins said.
“All the people in the local community need to do is look down the road to Leamington, where we just announced an additional $1.5 million to recruit three obstetricians, to keep that local obstetrics unit and that birthing centre open for the local community, or to Trenton. I was just in Trenton recently, where we are working with the local community.”
Hoskins added: “I would suggest that instead of fearmongering, she should work with the local community to provide the best patient care. We have no such plan. It’s unfortunate that you’re exploiting a rumour for your own political purposes.”
Here is the full video from the question period at Queen’s Park on Monday, the Wallaceburg hospital issue is discussed from the 15:39 mark until the 21:03 mark:
A contingent from the Wallaceburg Health Coalition made the trip to Toronto on Monday.
Watch for more coverage.
– Photo: From left, Kathleen Wynne, Eric Hoskins and France Gélinas.