Citizens will have a chance to make their voices heard regarding the future of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hopsital starting early next week.
Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Coalition of Hospital Unions (OCHU), called the meetings a chance to have “a dialogue with the community about their needs, instead of people yakking at the audience.”
The meetings will be held on the following dates at the listed venues:
- Monday, Jan. 14 at the Perth Civitan Club hall, 6787 County Road 43, at 7 p.m.
- Tuesday, Jan. 15 at the Smiths Falls Royal Canadian Legion branch, 7 Main St. E., at 7 p.m.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), will be the keynote speaker at both events, which have been sponsored by the OHC, as well unions that represent workers at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), plus the OCHU.
Hurley and his fellow campaigners have been going door-to-door in both towns in the lead up to the meetings, knocking on doors, and handing out postcards urging Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP Randy Hillier to get on board the fight to stop the cutbacks which have been six hospital beds close at each site.
“We were able to distribute about 3,000 postcards in Smiths Falls and Perth,” said Hurley. He knows for certain that many of the postcards did indeed arrive at Hillier’s constituency office because when he met with Hillier in December, “he had a large pile on his desk.”
While “we didn’t see eye-to-eye” during their “long discussion” on the future of the hospital, Hurley did describe the meeting as cordial.
“He (Hillier) takes exception to some of the things we said as fear mongering,” said Hurley. “We disagree because the hospital is in the first year of a multi-year funding freeze. Our concern is that, by the fifth year out, there will be so many beds cut that it will not make sense to keep both sites open because they are so close together.”
While Hillier was only elected as a Progressive Conservative MPP in 2007, four years removed from the end of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves era, Hurley charged that Hillier’s party still has baggage from that era on the hospital file.
“The problem that Mr. Hillier has is that it was his party that tried to close one of the hospital sites in the 1990s,” said Hurley, charging that Hillier is more interested in getting Carleton Place a new hospital site and in securing a new medical facility in Napanee.
“I think he is focused on those as priorities in his riding,” said Hurley.
The people in Smiths Falls and Perth gave Hurley and his campaigners a warm reception in both communities over the past few weeks.
“Probably about half of the people we spoke to were aware and the other half were not,” said Hurley. “We got a lot of positive feedback for raising the issue. We were pretty pleased with the reaction.”
Perth is seen as a retirement destination, and Smiths Falls is home to the majority of the social housing and welfare cases in Lanark County, a combined demographic that Hurley says skews how the provincial government looks at the hospital situation.
“The demographics of the region that they serve are older and poorer than other areas,” said Hurley.
He said that the hospital’s $4 million deficit “is not an enormous amount” and one that can be met, though he admitted that public sector organizations need to be fiscally responsible.