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Misinformation and health care don’t mix: it’s time to focus on facts

Posted Mar 30th, 2023

This is an opinion column by Niagara Health President and Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Guerriero, published in the St. Catharines StandardNiagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune

It doesn’t matter where you look. Right across our province and country, health-care systems are facing tremendous challenges. And yet, despite the many obstacles that stand in our way, there is reason for optimism and hope.

Many people have asked me whether I would have committed to being the president and chief executive officer of Niagara Health in February 2020 if I had known what I was signing up for. My answer never wavers. Yes, 1,000 per cent.

And here’s why. At Niagara Health, I am — and continue to be — blessed to work alongside incredible people. The pandemic’s impact on our sector was profound. Indeed, we are just coming to understand the full weight of its mental, emotional and physical toll on our workforce. A workforce that helped pull our entire community through some of its darkest days in recent memory.

In the heat of that battle, we learned a few vital lessons.

First and foremost, the importance of having a concrete and forward-looking plan. During the earliest days of the pandemic, this is a luxury we were not afforded as we fought, day by day. But now that the worst is behind us, we can get back to executing a plan for the future. This is a pivotal opportunity and a responsibility we do not take lightly.

The plan we are now implementing is almost a decade in the making. It’s designed to build a leading, modern health system across three cornerstone hospitals in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland. In all of this, it has been and will continue to be our top priority to provide the right care at the right time, to every person in Niagara region.

And this brings me to another key lesson we learned during the pandemic: that misinformation comes with a steep price. Any suggestion our plan to improve and transform health care will do anything but that, is simply wrong.

Our plan is grounded in evidence drawn directly from health-care planning experts. And in its development, we closely engaged with community members, and the stakeholders and partners we work alongside to deliver care.

Niagara has some of the highest rates in the province when it comes to chronic conditions. The proposed regional model to have three hospitals, with the hospital in Welland specializing in same-day procedures such as knee replacements and cataracts, is rooted in the community’s need for better management of chronic diseases and a higher quality and more efficient delivery of service.

The message we heard was clear: we needed to chart a path forward to transform how we deliver services over the next decade, while increasing our capacity and attracting more health-care workers to our community.

So that’s just what we’ve done. Our Transforming Care plan will build a responsive health system. Crucially, it will ensure we are held accountable, and that we are delivering on our goals to provide access to consistent, high-quality care to the nearly 500,000 residents we serve. Their voices matter most and the actions we are taking, and plan to take, have been crafted to meet their needs.

The Ontario government has approved our plan, which includes two hospitals with 24/7 emergency departments, one in St. Catharines and one at the new south Niagara hospital, and a third hospital to specialize in same-day procedures and with 24/7 emergency services in Welland.

The other specialty programs and services at the Welland hospital are not yet set in stone. As we re-imagine the Welland hospital, our extensive, forthcoming consultation process will provide residents the opportunity to share with us their healthcare needs and how they can be best served.

These past three years have shown me I made the right decision in taking up my role with Niagara Health. I am positive that sticking up for our health-care system and following a bold, ambitious and evidence-based plan will achieve transformational change in health care for our region.

Niagara Health System