Progressive Conservative MPPs from Scarborough, North York and Markham are urging their own government to save existing pediatric and obstetric services at the Birchmount hospital.
Last week, six Tory MPPs met with senior aides to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott to plead their case for stopping the maternity ward move from the hospital — which used to be known as the Scarborough Grace — to Scarborough General, which is 10 km away.
“We could lose our seats if this goes through,” admitted one worried local PC MPP, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal caucus deliberations. “This is a big problem because the community doesn’t want this to happen.”
That’s why some PC MPPs want the government to overrule local health authorities, who have argued the changes would actually deliver better services.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis (Ward 22, Scarborough-Agincourt), who is leading the charge to preserve the services and is working closely with some of the local Tory MPPs, warned “there will be a price to pay” in the 2022 election if Queen’s Park fails to act.
The seats that could be in play are currently held by Conservative MPPs Aris Babikian (Scarborough-Agincourt), Raymond Cho (Scarborough North), Logan Kanapathi (Markham-Thornhill), Vincent Ke (Don Valley North), Christina Mitas (Scarborough Centre), and Vijay Thanigasalam (Scarborough-Rouge Park).
“These (Tories) are friends of mine, but friendship has got nothing to do with this,” said Karygiannis, stressing Ford and Elliott have to “step forward” to help the community and PC fortunes.
The government, which has no plans to overturn a decision by the Scarborough hospital board, is allaying fears that the Birchmount facility will eventually be closed down altogether by investing $27 million in a new emergency room there.
“While we understand hospital programs can and must evolve, our government does not support the closure of this hospital or its emergency department.”
In a letter to Elliott two weeks ago, Maureen Adamson, chair of the Scarborough Health Network board of directors, underscored that “we are not closing, nor do we intend to close, the Birchmount emergency department.
However, Dr. Lisa Salamon, a Birchmount emergency physician who strongly opposes the changes, said scheduled pediatric and obstetric services could be gone after November, meaning longer trips for expectant mothers and parents.
“Anything can be stopped because they haven’t done anything. Nothing’s moved, it’s still business as usual. There’s still time, but we’re running out of time,” said Salamon.
In 2006 and again in 2013, the previous Liberal government intervened amid the threat of service reductions at the Birchmount hospital.
Scarborough Health Network spokesman David Belous noted 76 per cent of Birchmount-area women already have their babies elsewhere.
Belous said a “centre of excellence” at the Scarborough General would provide better pediatric and obstetric services to the community.
“Particular with obstetrics and birthing, we know that the higher the volume, the better the outcomes … for the mother and the baby,” he said.
“You want sites to have higher volumes.”