Wayne Gates was surprised by what Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t talk about during her stop in the city this past week, particularly the high cost of hydro and the progress toward a new hospital to serve south Niagara.
“I was actually surprised she didn’t raise it herself when she was in Niagara Falls,” Gates said after learning of the Premier’s comments about the hospital during a visit to a daycare centre in Pelham after she had spoken to the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce at the Scotiabank Convention Centre.
“I thought next to hydro, (the hospital) was the next big issue and she didn’t mention it at all.”
At the Pelham stop, Wynne was asked by Niagara this Week to comment on the hospital’s progress.
“No decisions have been made,” the premier said, noting a $26-million provincial investment has been made in the form of a planning grant for a new hospital.
Under the current Niagara Health plan, its site in Welland faces closure alongside the Greater Niagara General site in favour of amalgamation of services at a new site in Niagara Falls.
“There’s been a system look,” said Wynne. “That work is ongoing.”
But Gates is wondering what is taking so long, and he addressed the matter recently at Queen’s Park.
“They have their Phase 2 plan that now shows specifics of what will go into each unit ready to be submitted in November, but they can’t do that yet,” Gates said. “They can’t submit their Phase 2 plan because phase 1 hasn’t been approved yet. That is simply unacceptable.”
But Gates said he has spoken with Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, who assured him that plans are still on track.
“He said it was good to continue to raise it,” Gates said. “He appreciated the fact that I raised it. I would consider it a positive discussion. He is fully aware of the need.”
In July three south-Niagara mayors — Wainfleet’s April Jeffs, Port Colborne’s John Maloney and Welland’s Frank Campion — along with Niagara Centre NDP MPP Cindy Forster met with provincial Minister of Health Eric Hoskins to discuss the future of the hospital services in the area following up on a prior meeting in February.
All three mayors have publicly opposed the new plan. During the meeting they were told the plan is not yet final.
Critics of the plan for a new hospital in Niagara Falls that would result in a closure of Niagara Health’s Welland site said the government needs to give a clear signal on what it intends to do about health care in Niagara’s southern tier.
“Niagara Falls needs a new hospital and we wholeheartedly support the call for the Wynne government to give clear answers on this,” said Sue Hotte, chair of the Niagara Health Coalition. “But Welland and the region need their hospital protected also. The government cannot continue to pit community against community in a false competition that, in the end, would see not enough hospital services for anyone in Niagara. It is not about one town winning and others losing. If there are not enough beds and services, everyone in the region loses.”
Natalie Mehra, chair of the Ontario Health Coalition, was even more blunt.
“First the McGuinty and now the Wynne government have steamrolled through the closure of one entire hospital in Niagara and made draconian cuts to the remaining south Niagara hospitals,” she said. “These are among the worst cuts in Ontario despite unsafe hospital overcrowding, high death rates, and clear evidence of population need. As a result of the cuts, patients – most of them elderly – are transferred repeatedly from town to town, creating hardship for them and their families and communities.”
Gates, meanwhile, said when the time comes to finally build the hospital, every effort needs to be made to use local labour on the project including tradespeople, engineers, architects and labourers.
— With files from Steve Henschel/Staff