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The goal now is to keep talking.

Christine Whelan FEO, October 12, 2023, VOL. 5 ISSUE 3

Heather Kelley of Fort Erie Healthcare SOS posted a video on the group’s Facebook Page after the September 25 rally in Toronto. “Ok, Fort Erie. It’s your turn now. We’ve done a lot. We’ve petitioned. We’ve voted. We’ve gone to Queen’s Park. Now it’s your turn to let us know what you’re willing to do to help us help you save our healthcare.”

Residents representing Fort Erie, Ridgeway, Stevensville, Crystal Beach, Black Creek, and surrounding areas met at the Leisureplex at 8:30 that morning, boarded two buses, and headed to Queen’s Park for the Healthcare Rally to let it be known that part-time healthcare for Fort Erie is not acceptable.

This has been a build-up for the Fort Erie group.

Prior to the Toronto rally, there was a petition blitz. Heather explained, “We were at our local stores. Even the stores were working, getting petitions. That is what is going to happen now.”

Three vigils were held from May to July in front of the Douglas Memorial Hospital at 230 Bertie Street, Fort Erie. Petitions were available to sign at the vigils as well. There was also a sign-up sheet for the bus ride to Toronto on September 25.

On The Way

When asked about the drive up to Toronto on the bus, Heather smiled, “That was a lot of fun. The two buses came to Fort Erie to pick up our crew. We made a stop in St. Catharines, too, because there were a lot of people from the Niagara Health Coalition that were coming with us.”

Heather said it was exciting. She explained in her opinion, “We are so used to working within a smaller community. We’ve had rallies out front of the hospital with 30 and 40 people. This in Toronto, we knew, was going to be much larger.”

The Rally

“We got there early, which was nice because we got front and center,” Heather said. “We wanted to make sure that Fort Erie wasn’t left out. It was such a large crowd. We wanted to make our presence known.”

When Kelley and some of the others heard Fort Erie being mentioned, they knew that they were part of a much larger group.

“We got to be onstage and be recognized and a part of it. That was also nice for the people who were with us.” Mindon was present at the rally, as well as a couple representing Port Colborne. Both town’s healthcare has been reduced along with Fort Erie.

There were a few estimates on the total who attended. Heather deduced, “As I was up on stage and looking out at the crowd, I saw approximately 5,000 heads.”

Heather commented that the speakers did an amazing job. “They really brought it home. It helped us keep the momentum.” She explained, “A lot of times, people get frustrated and say, what’s the point?”

The Yellow Shirt Brigade

“Joy Russell did a fabulous job with The Yellow Shirt Brigade, having a rally outside the hospital in Fort Erie at the same time. It was good for people who couldn’t travel to Toronto.”

Coming Home

On the way home, Heather could hear bits of conversation behind her on the bus. “Everyone, although exhausted, was really excited. They were excited by what they heard, by what they saw, by the people they communicated with at the rally.”

The Next Steps

She says now they need to keep things going. Keep up the momentum. One of the next steps Heather indicated was to keep the people who had checked off on the petition that they wanted more information involved, to keep them actively engaged.

“We are going to continue the petition because we do want to present it at the Legislature.”

They didn’t take the petitions to Toronto as they didn’t want to get lost in the day. “We want to be front and center with our petitions.”

Heather says she’s now working on a Facebook Page and a website. She is also trying to get more petitions out into the community. “With a petition also comes a back-and-forth talk, meeting people face to face. “We plan on going door to door with the petitions. We’ve got 3,000. We have 29,000 to go.”

She sees her target. “I would like to present the petitions to the House sometime before the end of this year.”

Fort Erie’s Fight For Healthcare

On Wednesday, July 5, what once was a fully-functioning Douglas Memorial Hospital — opened in 1931, turned Urgent Care Centre in 2009 — went from a 24/7 service to part-time, with doors only open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm each day.

Kelley says the only explanation she has heard in response to the cutbacks is a shortage of staff. This is, according to Heather, the reason used to promote further, the privatization of healthcare.

“I listen and I hear, ‘We have this wonderful plan, but it doesn’t include you.'” To that, Heather comments, “We are not second-class citizens here. We are not.”

The goal is to keep talking.

Heather says now it’s time for the people here in Fort Erie to really step up to the plate. “I know not everybody is going to do it for a multitude of personal reasons.”

She added, “People need to know that they can make a difference. This is their country.

Heather and I talked about how those involved tend to be members of the older community. Naturally, when we are younger, we aren’t really thinking about things like the need for urgent care. This generally occurs as life hands us different situations that cause us to start thinking about our own health and safety.

“A couple of younger people came to Toronto,” Kelley remarked. “Not for themselves but representing a grandparent.” She is trying to connect with more youth to get them involved.

Heather says to the younger community, “You need to think about this importance, maybe not for yourself but for your grandparents and other family members who might need to be taken care of in the middle of the night, and guess who they are going to call?”

Create a Plan

“That is the basis of everything I do. What is your plan?” Heather says it’s essential to be prepared for this type of situation.

What Else Can People Do?

Other than signing a petition and creating a plan, Heather stated that residents need to be talking to the politicians. “Those are the people who can make the difference.”

Wayne Gates, your MPP, was at the rally. Mayor Wayne Redekop is another one to talk to.

“It’s important to contact the Minister of Health, Sylvia Jones. She has to hear from us so that she cannot say, ‘I have not heard from them. Everything is fine.'”

Kelley says, taking it one step further, “You can contact the Premier and your Member of Parliament. I want to make sure that everybody involved is contacted.”

Regarding phone or email, she suggests, “Sometimes, if phoning seems scary, emailing can seem less intimidating and there is a record.”

Heather invites everyone to any future speeches, rallies, or vigils. “When we have an event in the community it’s important to attend. If Niagara Health is holding an event, it’s important to attend as well because it’s important to hear both sides of the story.”

The goal is to keep talking. “Talk to family members about it. Spread the word.”

She says it’s important to have a conversation with others without pushing. There’s more chance of engagement. “As long as we are having the conversation.”

Since the rally was also on Yom Kippur, there was a representative at the September 25th rally and a second rally the following day for those who couldn’t make the 25th.

Heather is now looking at bringing in businesses. “Because when someone at work gets hurt in the middle of the night, it’s a much longer ride to Niagara Falls or St. Catharines to get an employee in to get a stitch.” She’s also connecting with other organizations.

If you are drawn to help Heather Kelley with this essential and meaningful work — maybe even an hour a week — you can connect with her by sending a message through the Facebook Page, Fort Erie Healthcare SOS.

Photos provided by Fort Erie Healthcare SOS Facebook Page

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