‘A primary care safety net’: McDermott calls for UCCs to remain open until alternative found

As two towns stare down the impending closure of their local urgent care clinics (UCCs), one Fort Erie councillor is urging Niagara Health and the Ministry of Health to pump the brakes.

George McDermott put forth a motion at the Monday, May 27 council meeting that calls on the Town to advocate to both Niagara Health and Queen’s Park to keep the UCC open at Douglas Memorial even after the new South Niagara hospital is open. The motion requests the UCC remain open “until a viable and sustainable alternative is in place” in the community.

“This motion is to say to everybody here that we’re not sitting on our hands, that we’re committed to urgent care, and I am, at least, committed to 24-hour urgent care,” McDermott told the crowd of health care advocates who stuck out a nearly five-hour council to hear his motion.

McDermott called the situation in Fort Erie a “health care fiasco” and something council members like himself have been dealing with for years.

“We’re always having to fight for our little piece,” he said.

The motion calls for similar action for Fort Erie’s neighbour to the west, Port Colborne, which is also facing a closure of its UCC.

McDermott pointed out that physician shortages in Fort Erie mean more than 7,000 residents don’t have a family doctor.

“Fort Erie Urgent Care Centre at Niagara Health’s Douglas Memorial site provides a primary care ‘safety net’ for the community and serves as a first point of health care contact for both attached and unattached residents who cannot receive time-sensitive primary health care,” his motion reads.

It goes on to point out the provincial government’s goal of reducing hallway medicine as well as EMS offload delays.

Niagara Health’s long term vision sees three main sites–St. Catharines, Welland and South Niagara–providing emergency department care, with each site having its own centres of excellence that Niagara residents can access.

At a community information session held earlier this year, senior executives at Niagara Health spoke about the three main sites working together.

“All three hospitals will work together as part of a seamless system of care,” said Angela Zangari, an executive vice president at Niagara Health, at the meeting.

For their plan to work, though, robust primary care offerings in Fort Erie and Port Colborne are required. McDermott’s plan would appear to give these two municipalities a fallback in case that primary care system doesn’t materialize in the next five years, at which point Niagara Health plans to have the three main sites operational and close the UCCs in Fort Erie and Port Colborne.

In addition to advocating to Niagara Health and the Ministry of Health, McDermott’s motion also forwards the resolution onto the Niagara Region and other lower tier municipalities for endorsement and support.

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