Public invited to give input on protecting, improving local hospitals

Mount Forest hospital will not take part in Ontario Health Coalition hearings despite frequent ER closures

MOUNT FOREST – Over the past year, the emergency department at Louise Marshall Hospital has closed temporarily 10 times, and the hospital is not alone.

The large number of emergency department closures province-wide has prompted the Ontario Health Coalition to schedule a series of public hearings to allow residents, service agencies, patient advocacy groups, health care professionals, municipal leaders and others to voice their concerns about the state of health care in the province.

“These hearings are a chance for people in rural and northern Ontario to share their experiences and to safeguard and improve our local hospitals, especially those at risk of closures,” stated Brenda Scott, chair of the coalition’s small, rural and local hospital committee, in a news release.

“We want to hear what has been cut, what if anything has improved, and what is needed to improve equity, save our hospitals and improve health care for rural Ontario,” Scott stated.

A series of 14 hearings are to take place in towns across the province between June 8 and 18, with options for members of the public to attend in-person or virtually.

In Mount Forest, a hearing focused on Mount Forest, Palmerston, Listowel, Durham and region will be held June 18 from 4:30 to 5:30pm at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 134, at 140 King St. W., or people can join by Zoom.

Angela Stanley is president and chief executive officer of the Wellington Health Care Alliance, which includes Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus, Mount Forest’s Louise Marshall Hospital and Palmerston and District Hospital.

In an emailed statement to the Community News, Stanley said representatives from Louise Marshall will not be taking part in the hearings.

She blamed an Ontario-wide health human resource shortage for closures at North Wellington Health Care hospital emergency departments (Mount Forest and Palmerston).

“These closures occur when a last-minute call-in happens, or a nurse is required to accompany a patient for a hospital transfer, with replacement staff not available,” Stanley stated.

“We have been working hard and making great strides in our recruitment efforts, hiring new staff, to build resiliency and we will continue to offer the same health care services to the communities we serve at this time.”

Hearings in Chesley for the Chesley, Walkerton, Hanover and Durham region, and in Wingham for its surrounding area, will also be held on June 18, earlier in the day.

These areas have also experienced regular closures of hospital emergency rooms over the past year.

“Last summer, we had an unprecedented number of closures of emergency departments across the province,” said Guelph MPP and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.

Though he is not able to attend the Mount Forest event, Schreiner is one of the politicians who will be attending hearings.

Others include NDP health critic France Gélinas and Liberal health critic Adil Shamji.

Schreiner said he plans to attend as many of the hearings as he can with his goal being to make sure problems the health care system is facing that are bringing about emergency department closures are being addressed.

“The Ford government seems to be not addressing the issue,” said Schreiner.

He said the Ontario Health Coalition specifically asked opposition parties to get involved in the hearings, so when they return to Queen’s Park in the fall, they can advocate for change.

The coalition has said the results of the hearings will be collected in a report with recommendations on how to protect and improve hospitals, especially small and rural hospitals.

Schreiner said he doesn’t want to presume what people will say during the hearings, but he suspects they will say “they’re finding it challenging to access health care services,” particularly emergency services.

He also expects to hear about the stress health-care professionals have been under.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on them,” he said.

Ontario has the lowest per-capita funding for health care of any province, Schreiner said.

“I think it’s a major concern and that’s why I’m going to continue to advocate for more funding,” he added.

Anyone is welcome to attend the OHC hearings, but to make a verbal presentation, people must register in advance by clicking here.

The deadline for written submissions is June 20 at 5pm.