Christine Whelan FEO, January 4, 2024, VOL. 5 ISSUE 9
During the Town Council Meeting on December 18, MPP Wayne Gates presented a report on the progress so far towards restoring overnight services to Douglas Memorial Urgent Care.
Gates thanked the groups, Niagara Health Coalition and Fort Erie Healthcare SOS, for organizing the campaign he presented to the Mayor and Council, including the gathering of the 4000 + signatures on petitions demanding that Urgent Care at Douglas Memorial be restored with 24/7 services.
He also thanked all those in the community who came together to demand the restoration.
Gates resounded, “There is nothing more important to me than defending access to healthcare to everyone, publicly-funded and publicly-delivered.” Adding that the decision to cut overnight services at Douglas Memorial is unacceptable.
The MPP reported, “Whether it’s here in Niagara, with Fort Erie and Port Colborne, or across the province like Minden, there have been 1199 closures of vital healthcare services including the emergency rooms and urgent care centres, just this year alone.”
Following with, “We know they have a staffing crisis in healthcare. But quite frankly, this is a crisis that has been worsened by this provincial government’s actions, including the wage-suppression law, Bill 124 or underfunding our healthcare system by billions.”
He added, “And they’re talking over 21 billion over the next five years.”
Bill 124 was brought in to cap the nurses’ and healthcare workers’ wages at 1% at a time when inflation is running at 6.5-7%.
“We know that here in Fort Erie as high as 1/3 of the residents are seniors who present with more complex healthcare concerns. We also know that there is a significant number of residents who don’t have a family doctor and rely on urgent care for healthcare for primary care needs.”
He stated that this was important for the councillors to hear as he just recently found this out from the Auditor General report. “The province does not have a province-wide strategy to prevent temporary emergency department closures and one in five patients who visited an emergency room were there because they don’t have a family doctor.”
The same report stated that urgent care centres play a vital role in supporting our healthcare system. “We should be investing in more urgent care, not cutting services from communities.”
Gates finished with, “And that’s important for communities like Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Minden.”
The MPP then addressed the winter issue. “We also know that we’re heading into the worst time of the year. There’s an increased burden on our healthcare system,” referring to a recent write-up in a local newspaper that reads, “Emergency rooms in Niagara are overwhelmed with patients with respiratory illness. Paramedics are still dealing with significant, offload delay issues at our local hospitals”.
He asked, “So, my question to the Council, the Mayor and to the community is, if they already know that the emergency rooms are filled, that they can’t take care of the patients who are going there today, yet they’re telling us, let’s send more people there from Fort Erie and Port Colborne, does that make sense to anybody?”
He then added slightly more quietly, “I have to say, absolutely not.”
Referring to last Christmas, “We all remember the storm last year that led to residents being trapped in their homes and major roads being closed. All this information should highlight how incredibly important it is to maintain 24/7 services at our local Urgent Care Centre. And Niagara Health has to do a better job in understanding that.”
Gates says he’s proud to have recently presented the over 4,000 signatures on petitions from residents here in Fort Erie to return the cuts to the overnight services at Douglas Memorial. “I presented them to the government at Queen’s Park. Now that the petitions have been submitted and filed, the government will be forced to respond. And that’s important.”
He says he’s also written directly to the Minister of Health on this matter.
“The longer we go without overnight services, the more burden we are placing on the rest of our over-stressed hospital system in Niagara, which will lead to longer wait times and worsened care.”
Gates mentioned the Yellow Shirts. “They’ve been fighting for over 20 years with this community and I wanted to say, thank you. The reality is, we haven’t won all the battles but we have won some of them because of the Yellow Shirts.”
The first thing that needs to be addressed, according to the MPP, is to repeal Bill 124, “Sending a clear message to our healthcare workers that they’re valued, that they’re respected. They are absolutely exhausted today.”
And secondly, “We need to get rid of our agency nurses. The companies are charging between $150-300 per hour for a nurse.” He asked, “Why would you not take that money, instead of giving millions of dollars to corporations, reinvest it into retraining nurses and putting it back into our healthcare system in the form of staffing and fair wages?”
Gates declared that this is the number one issue these days that needs to be addressed. “We continue to fight for healthcare here but if we all stick together, I firmly believe that, at some point in time, Niagara Health will understand, with the report that just came out, that urgent care centres are important to communities like ours.”
Adding a significant point, one that is hard to overlook, “And this community isn’t getting any smaller. It’s growing. Housing is being approved every day. We need proper healthcare for all of our residents, particularly our seniors.”
Regarding the re-scheduled public meeting on January 11, Gates implored, “We want the residents to come out and make their voices heard, to talk about the issues they’ve been facing with their healthcare. We want to make sure we hear your stories.” And he wants to see the room filled.
Join your community at the next Public Healthcare meeting at the Leisureplex Banquet Hall on January 11, 2024, at 6:30 pm and help send a clear message to the government that this community is in support of bringing back the around-the-clock urgent care hours.