Cuts, closures and deadly outbreaks at hospitals in the Niagara region are symptomatic of a health system in crisis, Ontario's NDP leader said Saturday, supported by the family who believes their daughter might be alive if the local emergency room was still open.
Andrea Horwath trekked to Fort Erie where she pledged to re-open the emergency rooms at two area hospitals, in a region hard hit by hospital cuts and a recent C. difficile outbreak that killed 33 people.
Area residents have been fighting for years to reverse hospital service reductions and closures, and say the story of Reilly Anzovino is a tragedy they believe may not have happened just months earlier, when the local emergency room was still open.
The 18-year-old died after a car crash in December 2009 when her ambulance had to travel 20 kilometres to a hospital because Fort Erie's ER was closed.
Ms. Anzovino's family called for a coroner's inquest, believing her life may have been saved if she had received help in Fort Erie, five kilometres closer. The coroner's office will conduct an inquest, but no date is scheduled yet.
Ms. Anzovino's death should be raising alarm bells about health care cuts, said Horwath.
“Reilly Anzovino was one example of the tragedy that occurs when you take away people's access to health care,” she said.
The family was at Ms. Horwath's campaign announcement, though they did not want to speak publicly due to the impending inquest.
The NDP said it would cost $10-million annually to re-open the emergency rooms at the Douglas Memorial Hospital in Fort Erie, Ont., and in Port Colborne, Ont. Some of the funds to pay for the emergency rooms would come from the NDP's promise to cut the pay of hospital CEO's, the party said.
Ms. Anzovino's death came just months after the two ERs were closed.
Wayne Redekop, the NDP candidate for the Niagara Falls riding, who is also the lawyer for the Anzovino family at the inquest, said the young woman's death is just one of many incidents and factors creating anxiety in the community.
“Ever since the (Health) Services Restructuring Commission recommended the amalgamation of all the hospitals in Niagara except Grimsby, this has been a continuous fight for the people of Fort Erie because we've gradually seen services reduced and eliminated,” he said.
“We have a community of 30,000 people on one of the busiest border crossings between Canada and the United States, with an influx of between 10,000 and 12,000 Americans each summer...and we have essentially no hospital. It doesn't make any sense.”
The province appointed a supervisor in August to take over full power of the Niagara Health System, but Horwath said it came too late.
“People have lost complete confidence in the Niagara Health System,” she said. “The patients have not had their needs met and they don't trust anything that the government's going to do anymore.”
The C. difficile outbreak saw 33 deaths at several hospitals across the Niagara Health System.
Elizabeth Rout said her husband was hospitalized for lung cancer, but she believes he contracted C. difficile and that hastened his death. She attended Horwath's announcement Saturday and said something has to change in the Niagara Health System.
“People have died trying to get to a hospital down here and we deserve a better health care system than that,” she said.
Ms. Horwath said the outbreak wasn't surprising considering service reductions, cutbacks on nursing care, overcrowding at area hospitals that do have open emergency rooms, and fewer cleaning resources. But, she added, Niagara isn't the only place with problems at its hospitals.
“Ontario is the worst across the country in terms of hospital backlogs and that's not just this region, that's across the province,” said Horwath. “Our health care system is in a bit of a crisis.”
Ms. Horwath was the only one of the three major party leaders to be campaigning Saturday. Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak took the day off.