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Small municipality vows legal action over hospital's in-patient bed closure

The mayor of West Grey is getting a Bay Street law firm involved in his community's fight to save its hospital services
A Save Our Hospital sign is seen in Durham.

The mayor of a small, rural municipality says he's turning to a "very large urban lawyer group" to fight the closure of the in-patient unit in his community hospital.

West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles came to Queen's Park Thursday to announce plans to launch legal action within the next two days over the local hospital board's decision to move the 10 in-patient beds at the Durham hospital to two other hospitals in the region because of a severe nursing shortage.

The South Bruce Grey Health Centre (SBGHC) has already reduced emergency department hours at that hospital and a nearby hospital in Chesley to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the Chesley site also closed on weekends, for the same reason.

Eccles did not know all of the details of the planned legal action — "That's why we hired lawyers," he quipped — but said it is meant to pressure the Health Minister Sylvia Jones to examine whether the hospital's decision is legal and if it has the authority to make it. 

He accused the SBGHC of listening to "large urban policymakers" rather than the community and said he would "fight fire with fire" by getting a "very large urban lawyer group" involved, referring to Affleck Greene McMurtry LLP.

Eccles was joined at the press conference by leaders of the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), who called on the government to implement a moratorium on hospital closures in Ontario and to step in and support struggling hospitals.

Natalie Mehra, the longtime head of the Ontario Health Coalition said her group has successfully fought off the closure of "dozens and dozens" of hospital services and hospitals by prompting the minister of the day to intervene. 

Mehra said a staffing crisis has almost always been the reason in the past, as it is with the Durham hospital, but when the minister of the day steps in, a solution can be found.

"This hospital was founded in 1910. It belongs to the community," she said. "The community supported it through two world wars, a Great Depression, multiple economic recessions, good times, and bad, through multiple hospital boards, and many, many iterations of provincial governments. And that hospital has survived. And we're to believe that now in 2024, suddenly, it's impossible to staff these hospitals? It's ludicrous."

When the Progressive Conservatives were in opposition, they called for a moratorium on rural school closures, citing the impact they have on small communities. They followed through with that promise in government. 

Liberal health critic Adil Shamji argued a similar approach should be taken toward hospitals: rural communities won't be able to grow without them.

Shamji, who's also an emergency physician, said the longer travel times to other hospitals in the region will put some cardiac patients at risk and will take ambulances off the road for longer.

"This will cost people their lives," he said. "This will cost people their dignity, it will undermine emergency care and critical care."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Jones, the health minister, said the government is getting shovels in the ground on 50 hospital development projects, and adding doctors and nurses to the workforce.

“Facts matter and while the Ontario Health Coalition, an out-of-touch, NDP-backed special interest group, has spent the last decade accomplishing nothing while standing ideologically opposed to innovation taking place in the health-care system, our government is taking bold action to connect more people to the care they need, when they need it," said Hannah Jensen.

The SBGHC said its president and CEO, Nancy Shaw, was not available for comment Thursday afternoon.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the South Bruce Grey Health Centre.

Jessica Smith Cross

About the Author: Jessica Smith Cross

Reporting for Metro newspapers in five Canadian cities, as well as for CTV, the Guelph Mercury and the Turtle Island News. She made the leap to political journalism in 2016...
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