You will recall that in early May, Dr. Kevin Smith, the Provincially-appointed Supervisor of the Niagara Health System (NHS), presented an Interim Report regarding restructuring of the NHS.
Among the 23 recommendations, Dr. Smith suggested that the Province should construct a new general acute care hospital as well as a free standing Urgent Care Centre in "South Niagara" and close the existing facilities in Port Colborne, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Welland, and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He asked the "Mayors of the 'Southern Tier' with input from the Regional Chair" to come to a unanimous recommendation for the locations for the new Hospital and the stand-alone Urgent Care Centre by June 15.
The six southern mayors – Mayor Vance Badawey, Port Colborne; Mayor Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls; Mayor April Jeffs, Wainfleet; Mayor Doug Martin, Fort Erie; Mayor Barry Sharpe, Welland; and myself -- and Regional Chair Gary Burroughs met five times. Regional GIS staff provided objective data and analysis mapping relating to population density, EMS call volumes, drive times, municipal infrastructure, and NHS referrals and ER usage. We made use of the best information we had during the short time we were given.
A unanimous decision was reached, and Chair Burroughs announced the results during our Regional Council meeting on June 14.
We recommended two geographic areas (about 4 square kilometres each) for the new "Southern" hospital -- generally described as the QEW and Lyons Creek area, and the East Main Street and Highway 140 area. These two areas are separated only by approximately 8 km -- about the same distance as between Fonthill’s and Fenwick’s downtowns.
We also recommended that Urgent Care Centres in Port Colborne and Fort Erie continue to operate.
What other sites did we examine and why didn't we recommend them? After reviewing some preliminary data, the six Mayors and Chair short-listed to six potential sites or areas. We reviewed each site, based on our criteria -- EMS call volumes, municipal servicing, drive-times, population densities -- and found the four other sites deficient in relation to the two recommended areas.
- Highway 406 and Regional Road 20: No water or sewer servicing and expensive to install; too distant for historic EMS call volumes, especially in relation to ambulance return times; too much overlap with coverage of new Northern Hospital;
- Netherby and Montrose Roads: Great coverage of population and drive times to location; however, but no water or sewer servicing and very expensive to install; too distant from historic EMS call volumes, especially in relation to ambulance return times;
- Existing Niagara Falls Hospital Site: Very poor coverage for entire Southern portion of Niagara; no room for a new build;
- Existing Welland Hospital Site: Poor coverage for entire Southern portion of Niagara; not enough room for a new build; Dr. Smith ruled-out this site when suggested by Welland City Council.
Why didn’t the six Mayors and Chair recommend just one site / location as was requested? We did this for two main reasons:
- First, we acknowledge that any siting for a new hospital will be subject to detailed consideration by the Niagara Health System, the Local Health Integration Network, and the Provincial government. Inevitably, the Health Ministry will have additional siting criteria about which we are not aware of nor privy to.
- Second, since a new Southern hospital will have a life of at least 50 to 75 years, we also called for a thorough and respectful public consultation about the two locations.
Finally, I spoke to Dr. Smith directly about the impact these two sites may have for Pelham residents. If the Province builds a new hospital near Highway 140 and East Main Street, one could expect that roughly the same proportion of Pelham residents that currently use the Welland site would use the new facility (approximately 70%). If, however, a new facility is built near Lyon's Creek and the QEW, it seems likely that nearly all Pelham residents will travel to the new Northern hospital. Dr. Smith acknowledged the NHS will continue to welcome Pelham residents at any NHS site, now and into the future.