Plans to close the only hospital emergency room on Hamilton Mountain have hit a significant roadblock, in part due to a grassroots community campaign spearheaded by two CUPE hospital locals.
At press time, Ontario Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer made a surprise announcement that a Supervisor being brought in to oversee future changes must keep his hands off the Henderson hospital and protect all acute care hospitals and emergency wards.
The community of Hamilton Mountain had jumped on board the CUPE campaign aimed at fighting more dramatic changes to their local health care system.
For those not familiar with the geography of Hamilton, Ontario (southwest of Toronto), there are really two Hamiltons. The older downtown is nestled between the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario while across the top of the escarpment sprawls a rapidly-growing community which locals refer to as the Mountain.
Regional Cancer Centres fate hangs in the balance
The plan to close the emergency room at the Henderson Hospital Hamilton Mountains only hospital would have had significant collateral damage as well, throwing the future of the adjacent Hamilton Cancer Centre into serious doubt.
With Witmers announcement, however, there would be no reason to move the cancer centre.
CUPE 794, representing some 1800 hospital workers at the Henderson, and CUPE 3566 representing 250 workers at the adjoining cancer centre, wasted little time in putting the fightback campaign together.
Says Local 794 president Ron Poynter about the plan that was to be implemented by this October, Its like a lethal injection for the residents of Hamilton Mountain.
Anyone who lives in Hamilton knows that because of the geography of the city, having no 24-hour hospital emergency room on the mountain will simply spell disaster for residents.
In a double twist of the restructuring knife, the decision to eliminate all acute care and the emergency ward from the Henderson site effectively turning it into a day hospital also put the future of the nine-year-old Hamilton Cancer Centre at risk.
Practically new, the centre is one of the largest in Ontario and was built at a cost of $47 million. Its services include an adjoining lodge that is used by families of people receiving radiation treatment, which would also have had to be rebuilt at a huge cost to taxpayers.
Local 3566s Shaun Pearson says, You simply cannot run a cancer centre in a facility that doesnt provide acute care. This decision would have all but sealed its fate. If the 24-hour emergency room had gone, the cancer centre would go with it
Says Pearson, As soon as we heard the announcement, our reaction was the public is going to be outraged at this. And thats exactly what happened.
The two health care workers and dozens of co-workers were part of a convoy of buses which recently made the trip up the QEW from Hamilton to Queens Park, and paid a visit to the Tory health minister.
After crowding into the legislative gallery to watch a debate on the health care crisis, they dropped off boxes containing some 18,000 petitions calling on the minister to put a halt to the closures.
No strangers to fighting the Harris government, Hamilton hospital locals have had plenty of experience in that area over the last few years. The industrial city has already been through dramatic restructuring which saw several area hospitals merge into the Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation (HHSC) a so-called super-hospital.
As part of the new super-hospital, the Henderson, General, Chedoke and McMaster hospitals are now wrestling with a $40-million deficit.