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Welland Hospital: No emergencies after 4 PM?

Niagara MPP calls for immediate meeting with Ford, Minister of Health, over 'confusing' plan to sharply curtail emergency services later this month at Welland Hospital
Welland Hospital.

Claiming that, over the past few weeks, his office has been inundated with calls and correspondence from concerned nurses, doctors, and constituents about impending changes to services provided at the Welland Hospital, Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch sent an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones on February 6.

Burch characterized the reduction of services as “a serious issue in our community that will have a significant negative impact on health outcomes for our constituents in Welland and throughout the Niagara Region.”

Niagara Health has indicated that at the end of January, the Welland Hospital’s surgical care operating room will be closed after 4 PM on weekdays and weekends. Elective day surgeries, however, will continue.

“It is my understanding from communications with front-line staff at Niagara Health that these changes are intended to be permanent,” wrote Burch in his letter, who opined that “there is great anxiety in the community over information released in the strategic plan, which outlines the intention of Niagara Health to permanently close the Welland Hospital and shift it to being an ambulatory site as of 2028.”

Ambulatory service is another term for out-patient care, which does not include admission to the hospital.

“This plan is contrary to my motion passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly, and unanimously supported by all parties in April, calling for equitable hospital services throughout the Niagara region by maintaining full emergency department services and acute care services at the Welland hospital,” wrote Burch.

“I have heard from doctors who are gravely concerned, telling us that these changes will result in avoidable patient deaths, especially considering the fact that we are experiencing serious issues with ambulance offload delays and that hospital sites in our region are frequently operating at near or above 100 percent capacity.”

Burch’s office has collected over a thousand signatures in an effort to petition the Ford government to save the emergency department at the Welland Hospital, and he has requested an immediate meeting with the Ministry of Health to discuss how the government intends to uphold the commitment made in the April motion in the Legislature.

“The language in the Niagara Health strategic plan is a bit confusing,” said Burch. “They are actually closing beds, and will not having a doctor on emergency call after 4 PM. Emergency surgical services will be permanently finished at the Welland site in February. They will still triage and deal with some medical issues, but if you go to the hospital’s emergency department, and they assess you as having a burst appendix, they will stabilize you, and then load you into an ambulance to be taken to another location, which we all know could take hours. In an emergency situation, minutes count. This new approach is going to lead to some very unfortunate outcomes for people in South Niagara.”

Conservative MPP for Niagara West Sam Oosterhoff was present for the April 2022 vote in the Legislature, and spoke in favour of the motion.

“Since the motion passed, there has really been no communication from Niagara Health,” said Burch. “It is a problem that the public has not really been educated or consulted on what these plans are for the Welland Hospital, so it's been up to local politicians like myself to try and tell people, ‘Hey, this is going to be happening pretty soon, and we’ve got to do something about it.’ We've got the petition out there, we're going to do a full-on campaign with the public, and going directly to the Premier and health minister.”

Back in 2012, Kevin Smith, who was the government-appointed Niagara Health overseer at the time, prepared a report suggesting that the Welland Hospital be permanently shuttered. An intense lobbying effort by local politicians quashed Smith’s recommendation.

Burch and Welland Mayor Frank Campion have previously expressed their concern about the proposed plight of the Welland Hospital in a joint public letter to Niagara Health president and chief executive officer Lynn Guerriero.

The current system includes five medical facilities with full-service hospitals in Welland, Niagara Falls, and St. Catharines, while sites in Port Colborne and Fort Erie offer urgent and ambulatory care.

Niagara Health’s 2023-2028 strategic plan includes the statement: “by 2028, Niagara Health will…fully transition to a regional model with two acute care sites, including the opening of the new South Niagara Site hospital, and one ambulatory care site.”

The St. Catharines Hospital would be the other acute care and full-service site. Urgent care centres in Port Colborne and Fort Erie are slated for closure after the new hospital in Niagara Falls opens.


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Don Rickers

About the Author: Don Rickers

A life-long Niagara resident, Don Rickers worked for 35 years in university and private school education. He segued into journalism in his retirement with the Voice of Pelham, and now PelhamToday
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