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Welland hospital may retain ER

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Welland hospital

Welland hospital

Welland hospital may be able to keep its emergency department, after all.

Over the past five years, plans for Welland hospital progressed from closing the facility completely, to a more recent proposal to build an urgent care centre where the existing full-service hospital now stands.

But Niagara Health executive vice-president and chief financial officer Angela Zangari is now saying those plans could be changing again.

“We are now evaluating the possibility of 24-hour emergency services with overnight observation beds for patients who require monitoring, which would be in addition to a number of our services,” Zangari said in an email to Postmedia.

For the first time since plans for Niagara hospitals were unveiled in 2012, Welland Mayor Frank Campion said he’s “very encouraged” by progress that has been made.

In addition to potentially retaining emergency services at the hospital, Zangari said it is proposed the facility would also include “outpatient surgical services, medical clinics, dialysis, mental health and addictions (services), Ontario Breast Screening Program services, laboratory services and full diagnostics including CT scan, ultrasound, X-ray and cardiac diagnostics, among a number of other services.”

A new long-term care facility would replace the existing extended care unit at the hospital, while enhanced health and wellness services for seniors would be added to the facility.

Meanwhile, plans for a new full-service hospital for Niagara Falls are proceeding as well, and facilities proposed for both communities are now being considered for final approval by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Although Campion acknowledged that future hospital services will likely fall short of those now offered in Welland, he called it a significant improvement over initial plans that would have completely shut down the hospital.

“We’re going from zero hospital, where we were getting nothing. At one point, there was no guarantee we’d even get an urgent care centre,” said Campion, who spent years working with Welland MPP Cindy Forster, the mayors of Port Colborne and Wainfleet, as well as community members, lobbying for the preservation of services at Welland hospital.

Campion said retaining the emergency department was a primary concern for south Niagara communities. However, retaining additional services such as telemetry and intensive care are “part of the ongoing discussions” with hospital administration.

“That’s where the discussion is right now, determining how that can happen,” he said. “It’s: what makes a sustainable hospital? What services do we need to maintain that? And what services do we need to make it a value to the community?”

Even if the hospital ultimately lacks some of the services currently available, he said it could be expanded in the future to meet the needs of south Niagara’s growing communities.

Zangari said she is looking forward to updating the community on the project, when new information becomes available.

“We have had some very positive discussions with Welland Mayor Frank Campion over the last several months and appreciate his advocacy for health care for Welland residents. We will continue to work with Mayor Campion, the community and all of our stakeholders as we move forward with our planning,” she said.

Campion attributes the recent success to meeting with Health Minister Eric Hoskins a few times since he was appointed to the job in 2014.

During those meetings, Campion said, south Niagara community representatives made a “business case” for the preservation of hospital services in the community.

“He listened.”

In comparison, Campion recalled banging his “head against the wall” during previous meetings with Health Ministry officials, who responded to concerns, the mayor said, by saying “‘That’s great, but we’re closing the Welland hospital.’”

He said significant progress has been made during months since, although it has not been widely publicized as the result of an agreement between the parties involved.

“That’s why you haven’t heard anything,” Campion said. “We agreed that we would keep this sort of a private conversation until we felt we were getting somewhere that we would then be able to bring it forward. I think we’re getting close to that point now.”

ABenner@postmedia.com

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