Ontario’s Solicitor General must act immediately to stop the controversial closure of the Hamilton forensic pathology unit, in light of two new critical reports – one from respected provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk.
Since the summer of 2019 when the closure was made public, many in the Hamilton/Niagara community – including police, crown prosecutors and medical personnel – have been united voicing opposition to its closing and moving all forensic autopsies to the Toronto Unit.
Hamilton’s hospital-based unit conducted 1,386 autopsies in 2018-2019 alone. It is the second busiest forensic pathology service in the province. Should the Hamilton unit close as scheduled in June 2020, these autopsies would be completed at the Toronto Unit, which the auditor flagged in her recent report as lacking body storage procedures, resulting in errors in the release of bodies.
There have been troubling allegations surrounding the motivations behind the closure. “Now Ontario’s auditor has chimed in as well. It is clearly time for the Solicitor General to clear the air with some sober second thought and stop the closure of the unit,” says CUPE 7800 President, Dave Murphy, who represents nearly 4,000 Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) staff.
Following a body inventory in the Toronto Unit in May 2019, the auditor’s office identified “10 errors in body location – a body was found in the wrong cooler twice, and bodies were located on the wrong tray or gurney eight times. The auditor says in her report that these errors increase the risk of a body being released incorrectly for burial or cremation.
Further Lysyk says: “The risk of the lack of controls for body storage is likely to increase as caseloads increase at the Toronto Forensic Pathology Unit, when it takes on an additional 1,300 cases each year by July 2020, as a result of the decommissioning of the Hamilton unit.”
Originally the chief coroner’s office said that closing the Hamilton/Niagara unit would save $3 million a year. Now those savings “are whittled down to just $750,000 after two years of decommissioning the Hamilton site. Knowing that there is considerable opposition to this closure, that it will, in the end save very little money but may result in an increased risk of errors at the Toronto Unit, is not in anyone’s best interest. The government must intervene and halt the closure,” says Michael Hurley, president of the CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).