Residents oppose closure of Branson urgent care centre in North York

Residents in northern Toronto say they are upset about the impending closure of an urgent health care centre run by North York General Hospital that serves their area.

'A hospital is a not a luxury,' resident says about closure of centre that provides emergency services

Members of the Bathurst-Finch Social Action Group, a community group, opposed the closure of the Urgent Care Centre, part of the Branson Ambulatory Care Centre, which is run by North York General Hospital. Left to right, Joyce Street-Lee, Priyan Dasilva and Moonja Park. (CBC)

Residents in northern Toronto say they are upset about the impending closure of an urgent health care centre run by North York General Hospital that serves their area.

The residents attended a town hall on the closure of the Urgent Care Centre at the hospital's Branson Ambulatory Care Centre, 555 Finch Ave W.. The closure is schedule for June 2017. The Branson centre is one of the hospital's three sites.

The urgent care centre, one of many services provided at the Branson centre in the Bathurst Street and Finch Avenue West area, provides emergency care for non-life threatening, urgent illnesses or injuries. 

Community advocates say the closure means residents in need of emergency health care will have to go to the hospital's main site, near Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East, which is 10 kilometres away.

Residents at the meeting urged each other to "direct their ire" to the provincial government. One said: "A hospital is not a luxury. A hospital is a must."
'A hospital is not a luxury,' a resident of the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood tells a town hall meeting. (CBC)

Maureen Simpson, a member of the Branson Community Action Group, which hosted the meeting, said residents oppose the closure because the urgent care centre is within walking distance of the community, which is home to many seniors, disabled people, low income families and new Canadians.

"We have a big seniors population. And they can't really get to the other hospitals nearby. This is more convenient for them," she said.

Coun. James Pasternak, who represents Ward 10 - York Centre, said he was surprised that no representative from the hospital attended the meeting. He told the meeting that the urgent care centre is "a vital medical asset."

"If they have a story to tell, if they have a reason and a rationale and a business case on their side, it is incumbent on them to come out to the community and explain themselves. The fact that they are not here is an embarrassment," he said.
Coun. James Pasternak, who represents Ward 10 - York Centre, said there is a lot of anger in the community. (CBC)

In a March 1st online letter, Tim Rutledge, North York General Hospital's president and CEO, announced the urgent care centre would close on June 1.

The hospital has leased the property that contains the Branson centre from Advent Health Care Corporation for the past 19 years and that lease expires in 2019.

"We will begin to transition services from that site," he said.

"Given that we do not own this building, and Advent has extensive redevelopment plans for the site, it would not be prudent for us to use public dollars to continue to invest in this building."

The hospital said it conducted a telephone survey on April 20 in the catchment area of the Branson centre about its transition plans and it found that the majority of residents use the hospital's main site. It called more than 20,000 Branson area residents and nearly 4,000 took part for an hour. 

'Not an optimal location,' CEO says

"The Branson Ambulatory Care Centre is therefore not an optimal location for all of those we serve and so we are exploring other places to provide these services," Rutledge said.

Once the urgent care centre is closed, he said residents are encouraged to use the hospital's Charlotte and Lewis Steinberg Emergency at its main site on Leslie St. He said those with primary care needs can go to community doctors and walk-in clinics.

Karen Kelly, spokesperson for North York General Hospital, said Rutledge was unable to attend the meeting on Monday night, but has indicated he is willing to meet local community group members in person at a later date.

"Community engagement has been an important part of the Branson Ambulatory Care Centre transition from the beginning. Telephone and point of care consultations took place last summer and very much informed our decision, along with the analysis of key data, to transition services by 2019 and close the Urgent Care Centre this year," she said.

"These consultations revealed pertinent information about how the community accesses care, including their feedback that our general site was the facility they most visited for urgent health care needs."

In addition to the urgent care centre, the Branson provides services for prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment planning, mental health, medical imaging, cataract surgery and diabetes education programs.