PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati will attend a rally in Welland Saturday afternoon to protest the consolidation of the region’s maternity and pediatric services at the new St. Catharines hospital, even though he has been asked to reconsider by a member of city council.
Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni, a vocal and fierce critic of the Niagara Health System, has had a change of heart on the maternity-care issue. After touring the new St. Catharines hospital this week, Ionnoni now believes her colleagues should work toward making sure a second new hospital is built in Niagara Falls and end their battle to stop consolidation of birthing departments.
“He’s the mayor and he’s following council’s motion. I cannot tell him whether to go or not to go. He will go and do what’s in the best interests of the community. I have no doubt in that.
“Jim has said if it comes down to fitting for mat/child care or a new hospital, he wants to fight for the hospital. He was right and I was wrong. And if that’s been his mindset for quite some time, I don’t quite understand why he is going. But I also know he has made a commitment to be there and he doesn’t want to pull out of that, and I understand that as well.”
Ioannoni toured the new hospital Tuesday and spoke to Diodati later that evening about his plans to attend the rally, billed as Putting Women and Children First. It is organized by the CAW and another Niagara Falls councillor, Wayne Gates.
Gates, who made an impassioned speech at the last council meeting urging politicians to oppose the move of birthing and pediatric units from Welland General Hospital and Greater Niagara General Hospital, is also president of CAW Local 199.
“It makes absolutely no sense to take these services out of Niagara Falls,” Gates said at council. “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.”
He got unanimous support for his motion calling on Diodati to continue talking to NHS supervision Kevin Smith about reversing the decision on maternity services. The two have spoken. Diodati said the conversation didn’t change anything, and he doesn’t think the rally will change anything, either. But he’s still going, mindful of Ioannoni’s new position and mindful that the NHS might not view his presence in a favourable light.
Diodati said he will merely reaffirm his position and that of his council, and added he hopes his attendance will not be viewed by the Niagara Health System as a betrayal.
“Of course I am concerned about what they might think, but I believe they are sensitive to the issues,” Diodati said. “I have always said I would prefer that maternity stay in Niagara Falls and stay in Welland. That hasn’t changed. And that’s what I am saying by going on Saturday. The position of our council has been consistent since Day 1.
“I still support the new hospital and I support what Kevin Smith is doing. I was asked to go, and what they are saying is in line with what we as a council have said, so I will be there. I’m not backing out.”
Smith said this week he is sympathetic to the political pressures faced by someone like Diodati. But he also said the NHS didn’t make this decision on consolidation based on politics.
“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.”
Smith this week reiterated to Bullet News that the NHS has thoroughly examined the issue of maternal care and where it would be best placed at this time. He said there is only one conclusion that can be reached: the new St. Catharines hospital.
“I invite anyone to look at that facility,” he said. “We have spent so much taxpayer money building a modern, first-rate hospital that is the best place for babies and moms. We have had the word’s best experts look at our plan. We’ve examined at four times. Everyone is saying the same thing.
“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.”
Asked about this weekend’s rally and Diodati’s presence, Smith said he appreciates the “passion” that people have. But he hasn’t seen any new information or arguments that would alter the planned move for March 24.
“I respect that there are different ways to solicit input, and I don’t have to maintain my job by being elected every four years. I know our elected officials have to do their jobs how they see fit, and if this is what Mayor Diodati feels is appropriate in his role, then I respect this.
“I hope they will equally respect that we have looked at this issue four times. We have brought in the world’s brightest and best. We have looked at the long-term sustainability of our plan. We’ve looked at the physical plant. I appreciate that people will continue to express their views. But the recommendations as approved by the external review team are what they are, and I continue to believe that is the right model for the future. So we are moving forward on that plan.”
The rally starts at 1 p.m. at the Welland Arena on King Street. Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe, Diodati and Gates are the scheduled speakers.