PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Two weeks ago, accusing the Niagara Health System supervisor of using ‘weasel words’ when describing his vision for the future of health care in the region – specifically for his perspective of maternity care – Niagara Falls Coun. Wayne Gates convinced his colleagues that Mayor Jim Diodati should be dispatched for more discussions on the issue with Kevin Smith.
The depiction at first brings a chuckle from Smith as he notes that he has probably been compared to a lot worse during his many years in public service. But he knows the concerns are serious: Too many people don’t believe a new south Niagara hospital will ever be built, and too many don’t believe that, even if it does materialize, that maternity and pediatric services will come back there once they are first centralized in St. Catharines at the end of March.
Smith insists both will occur.
“I understand if people are worried and have anxieties. I can make the emphatic statement they are looking for: The plan has been predicated on moving maternity back to the new southern location.
“I have looked at the model and determined that because the new St. Catharines site contains cardiac and cancer, which are, in the case of cancer particularly, growing diseases, that I believe the St. Catharines site will eventually be under pressure. So it will not only be appropriate, but it will be necessary for maternity to move back. When the southern site is built, it will move there. That is certainly my very explicit direction.”
And not just part of the service – all of it. If there was any doubt of the plan’s intent, it is that the new south Niagara hospital will be home to the entire regional maternity complex. In otherwords, all babies will be born in Niagara Falls.
“All of it will move to the southern site,” Smith said. “When we spoke to obstetricians, they told us that they didn’t care which hospital, as long as it was consolidated.”
Diodati said he is looking forward to sharing the results of his conversations last week with Smith during tonight’s council meeting. Diodati said he hopes that will ease some minds and start the process of bringing his fellow politicians over to his way of thinking – which is to give up maternity care now will mean something better in the future.
“I support the new hospital,” Diodati said. “I do believe it will be built and I do believe that maternity will be part of it.”
Diodati, who attended a weekend rally in Welland protesting the centralization, chose his words carefully in front of the 80 or so people – about 10 of them municipal politicians from Welland, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls. The closest Dodati got to criticizing the NHS was to repeat his belief that maternity could remain in Welland and Niagara Falls until the southern site is opened.
Smith said it can’t.
“At the end of the day, ask what’s going to be good for moms and babies, and it’s a consolidated program with great relationships with a remarkable EMS team, which is exactly what we have. I hope people respect that we have looked at this issue four times and talked about it for 12 years. We have looked at the longterm sustainability of the plan, we have looked at the physical plant we have talked to our nursing colleagues who feel stressed by providing fragmented care.
“We built a world-class facility to provide accessible children’s services. So while I appreciate people will continue to express their views, the government of Ontario built a remarkable facility with taxpayer dollars for a remarkable program to be realized. And I am moving forward on trying to realize that. I continue to believe this is the right model of care for the future.”
Not all agree. Witness the Niagara Falls council resolution two weeks ago. Witness the weekend rally, the petitions, the comments from some doctors (although few of them are willing to put their names to their views).
The NHS is taking a new tact. It is inviting detractors to tour the new hospital. Niagara Falls Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni did that last week. The most vocal of NHS critics, she is now convinced it is moving in the right direction and describes herself as having ‘hospital envy.’ She’s still not convinced the south hospital will be built, but is willing to give Smith the benefit of the doubt.
“I think that the naysayers are forgetting is what the current physical plants look like,” Smith said. “They are unsustainable for the services they wish to offer without significant investment. And even if you do make those investments, the operating dollars and the number of physicians required wouldn’t permit you to safely cover them. So the view that what we are doing isn’t the longer-term solution is short sighted.
“I mean, if you don’t want something to happen you can keep saying, ‘That will never occur.’ Well, it has to occur. You have to either rebuild a bunch of sites that are too small to be viable, there are too many of them to (staff and operate), and too dispersed to attract young physicians. Or you need to consolidate that work. And I haven’t heard anybody in the ministry or beyond say the direction in which we are going is not the right direction. But if people keep saying, ‘It will never be built, it will never be built,’ well, you can create your own future. It is time to move and improve the quality of care and use this remarkable facility that has been constructed.”