PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati thinks the Niagara Health System should scrap the plans to centralize maternity wards in St. Catharines as a show of good faith – and because he believes it’s the right thing to do.
Diodati was responding to a motion passed Tuesday by Niagara Falls politicians that directs him to again meet with NHS supervisor Kevin Smith on this issue. Maternity, obstetrics and pediatrics are scheduled to be pulled out of Welland General Hospital and Greater Niagara General Hospital and moved to the new facility in St. Catharines on March 24.
“I don’t know how anyone can support that,” Diodati said. “From the start our council has been consistent. We have resolution after resolution saying the maternity and pediatrics should say in Niagara Falls and Welland.”
Smith has said the services would stay in St. Catharines, but be moved back when a new south Niagara hospital is built in Niagara Falls.
“We’re saying, why?” Diodati said. “Why move them twice? Why do this? The residents don’t want it. The medical staff doesn’t want it. The patients don’t want it. The doctors have said they would staff the birthing units and not charge anything. How do you get a better offer than that? Why not take them up on it? What the NHS is doing doesn’t make any sense.”
Smith, however, said it makes all kinds of sense. He told Bullet News Tuesday evening he will meet with Diodati to better understand the recent concerns expressed by Niagara Falls politicians, but he doubts anything will change.
“We’ve had four different groups look at this, the latest being a group led by the academic chairs of pediatrics and obstetrics and the CEO of one the world’s most preeminent children’s hospitals (Sick Kids in Toronto), and they’ve given us their best advice which is consistent with the advice that others have given us.
“I think it would be so unwise to open this Pandora’s box. We have built with taxpayer money from the province of Ontario a remarkable environment that is so much superior to anything we have in Niagara. I would invite anyone who questions this consolidation to go look at the new physical environment that is better for moms, better for babies, better for staff.
“I’ve had a number of staff telling me they are glad we are consolidating because now they will be looking after a very small number of children. I just think it would be so unwise than to do anything but go forward against the advice of world leaders in these disciplines. We’ve looked at this issue in great depth with experts who have no vested interest other than what’s best for moms and babies.”
Smith said hospitals in Niagara Falls and Welland are old and require too much money to bring them to the level of what is available in St. Catharines. He also said recruiting doctors and other medical staff to current facilities would be near impossible.
On Tuesday Coun. Wayne Gates made an impassioned plea for council to keep the pressure on the NHS to reverse its decision on maternity wards.
“It makes absolutely no sense to take these services out of Niagara Falls,” Gates said. “We’re the Honeymoon Capital of the world. People come here to make babies and we’re not even going to be delivering them. It makes absolutely no sense. Our new birth certificates will say the QEW from all of the babies that will be born in cabs. The immediate issue is upon us. We have to find a way to convince them not to take the services out.”
Smith has recommended to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews that a new Niagara South hospital meant to replace aging facilities in Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Port Colborne and Welland be constructed.
In that report to Queen’s Park, Smith also reconfirms his position to close pediatrics and maternity wards in Niagara Falls and Welland and move the services to the new St. Catharines hospital, which opens this spring. However, once a new Niagara South hospital is built in Niagara Falls, those services will move again back to the new facility, Smith’s report says.
That’s not good enough for Niagara Falls council, some of whom insist the new hospital will never happen and others who say if it does, it could be 10 years away – even longer.
“Once those services are gone they are not coming back for a long, long time,” Gates said. “Our immediate battle is that the (new) hospital might not be built. It might be 20 years. I have some concerns about that. There is no guarantee if we build another hospital anywhere in the Niagara region that those services are coming back.”
Not true, said Smith. He reiterated his plan to see maternity services return to the new south Niagara hospital when it is built.
“In my plan what I have talked about is that five years, seven years out, as cancer and cardiac care continues to need to expand (at the St. Catharines site), the opportunity for repatriation (of maternity services) I think very much exists. I know I’ve heard some people suggest the new (south Niagara) hospital isn’t a reality. Obviously I wouldn’t have made that recommendation if I didn’t think it was very much a reality.”
Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor said municipal politicians should stop trying to pretend they are experts in health care.
“The councils need to run the cities and let the experts look after health,” he said. “It’s so unfortunate that it’s a topic that always has to be politicized. That’s what’s happening now. I would tell all the politicians in Niagara that the issue isn’t where maternity is going, the issue is the new hospital. We have some (in Welland and Port Colborne) saying they don’t want the new hospital. We’ve been making so much progress and now we seem in some ways to have come full circle and are back to the fighting among ourselves.”
Smith, too, expressed disappointment that the consolidation of maternity wards has caused so much of a divide in the region.
“I really, truly regret that this continues to be so divisive and that so many people have such strong feelings about it. I know that it is hard. But I also think that when we are looking at bringing people together who are literally advising the world’s governments on how pediatrics and child health can be improved, we have to take heed of that. While we have great expertise at councils in certain issues, we have to sometimes recognize when the expertise lies outside of the political fray. And in this case I think it does.”