Part 1 of 2
PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Kevin Smith knows the easiest thing would have been to just give in.
He knows throwing his hands in the air and surrendering would have save headache, angst, frustration and, maybe, some sleepless nights.
But he also knows it would have been wrong.
So while about 80 people were protesting in Welland the amalgamation of maternity and pediatric services in the region, the Niagara Health System supervisor continued to stick to his position – one that is shared by some of the world’s leading exerts – that Niagara’s moms and newborns will receive and best and safest care by moving everything to the new St. Catharine site in March.
“We knew this would be the most contentious issue, and that has certainly proven to be the case,” Smith said. “But I remind everyone that we have had dialogue on this for 12 years. We have examined this four times. 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.”
None of that seemed to matter on Saturday where Niagara Falls Coun. Wayne Gates led a rally inside a committee room at the Welland Arena, attempting to demonstrate unanimity between the two communities about to lose their birthing wards. Welland Mayor Barry Sharpe was there, along with Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and a roomful of people, many appearing to be well past the age of potential parenthood. There were a handful of placards in support of Putting Mothers and Children First, the name given to the gathering.
Gates told the audience that consolidating maternity services would put mothers and babies at risk. Diodati was much less alarmist. His presence at the rally was viewed with surprise by some at the Niagara Health System and, given the fact his city will be home to the new south Niagara hospital, he walked on eggshells during his few minutes at the microphone.
He said he didn’t understand the need to move maternity services to St. Catharines, then back to the proposed new south Niagara hospital – as Smith has promised will happen. But he stopped well short of criticizing the second hospital concept or suggesting anyone would be in peril with centralized maternity care in St. Catharines.
Diodati is, in fact, on the record calling the maternity centralization “short-term pain for long-term gain” and a booster of what Smith wants to do.
“Do you think if I thought this wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be safe that I would have recommended it?” Smith said. “I appreciate there are strong feelings about this and I know it’s hard to sometimes accept change. I came to this knowing the easy solution was to leave obstetrics where it was, and if that was a viable solution I was prepared to make it work. But as I began to explore this with expert after expert and look at it in terms of efficiency and safety and recruitment and retention of doctors, it became more and more obvious that it was not the way to go.
“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.”
Some 5,000 attended the first open house last weekend (a second is scheduled for next Saturday) and Smith said the praise was almost universal. He said he sympathizes with some of the anxieties out there, but insists they are not based in fact and calls it “scare-mongering” for anyone to suggest there will be a sudden rash of babies born in traffic.
“The reality is that very few people don’t make it to the hospital, and if there was a risk one would need simply to dial 911 to have very, very good paramedic help. That is really suggesting we should design a system for the most unlikely and remote occasions. What we are proposing is a less risky model than what we have today, and what is being suggested. What we have today is being held together by duct tape.”
Smith has said repeatedly Niagara Falls and Welland hospitals are too old to fix. And left as they are it will be impossible to recruit and retain doctors and other staff. He said he continues to be disappointed by “wrong and misleading” information that makes the rounds and is eventually accepted as the truth.
“The prenatal care, the postnatal care, the scans the office appointments – none of those things are moving.
The sooner we make this move, the sooner we get it done, the better it will be so people can experience that this is safe and high quality and efficient.
“One of the proposals out there is to close down Welland or Niagara Falls every other weekend, or when we cant staff it. So then we have mothers not knowing were to go. We’re more likely to have women at a site believing they can deliver and have no staff. This is not a safe model of care.
“You know, we have had so long to discuss this. I really think it would be inappropriate not to make use of (the new St. Catharines hospital). Obviously we will be evaluating this very, very carefully. And I believe there is a very low probability of this being anything but wildly successful.”
Part 2 Tuesday: Kevin Smith on the future of maternity care in Niagara