NOTL health steering committee has new chair

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

The first meeting of the health care steering committee under the chairmanship of Brenda Jones will be held next week.


Jones, formerly the vice chair, takes over from Maria Bau-Coote, who has left her positions as chair of the committee and as executive director of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Family Health Team.

The committee will reconvene with the same focus, says Jones - moving ahead toward a health hub for NOTL.

It is now made up of stakeholders, with the support of the town council, who have identified a plan to form a health hub and the services it would like to offer, said Jones, who was one of the original members of the committee, sitting at the table as the NOTL Hospital Foundation representative.

“I am stepping up as chair, and will reconnect with our stakeholders so we can move forward,” she said.

The steering committee was formed in 2013, evolving from a Town committee that was formed to review how to move forward in health care following an announcement that the NOTL Hospital would close.

The hospital’s 22 beds were relocated last March, but the doctors’ offices and other health care services remain downstairs.

The committee is planning a one-stop community health-care centre that would house the town’s family health team doctors and other health care providers, including Community Care Access Centre and Niagara Region Public Health. The vision also includes laboratory, x-rays, physiotherapy services and satellite specialty services such as cardiology, orthopedics, neurology and ophthalmology.

The current thrust of the Ontario government is toward community hubs, which can offer whatever services the community chooses - and in NOTL, that begins with health care, said Jones.

Two doctors from the NOTL Family Health Team are members of the steering committee, as are representatives of the former NOTL Hospital Auxiliary, the Niagara Health System, the LHIN, CCAC, and Hospice Niagara.

The steering committee has hired a lawyer to help them determine their next steps to move forward, said Jones.

Those steps will include putting together a board of governance, holding a public information session - probably in early April - choosing a location for the health hub, and fundraising.

Jones says the committee has a sense that the public is supportive of their plans, “but we need to reconnect. We need to bring the public back into the discussions.”

The committee has a list of sites to consider, and the governance board will likely make that decision, she said.

Bau-Coote was stretched for time with her two health-related positions and as an elected member of the NOTL town councillor, and was hindered from making decisions that conflicted with her role with the family health team and on council, said Jones.

“I’ve got the time, and the volunteers on the committee will help pick up the slack as we look at getting permanent members of the governance team,” said Jones.

While there will likely be some local fundraising, the province is expected to contribute.

“They’re supporting it, they’re promoting it, so hopefully they will be behind it financially,” said Jones.

The town council is now involved, and that’s significant, she said. “If this is going to be a community project, the council has to be part of it, for their input and their support,” she said.

“We’re in our fourth year now. It’s taken a long time to get to this point. Hopefully now we can get the ball rolling.”


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