Toronto

Doctors predict disability and death from Birchmount Hospital cuts

Dozens of emergency room doctors are warning that cuts to women's and children's health services at Birchmount Hospital in Scarborough will lead to substandard care, disability and even deaths.

Physicians say they see 'no clear plan to safety' for women and children

Service cuts are slated to come to Birchmount Hospital, which is also known as Scarborough Grace Hospital. (Google Maps)

Dozens of emergency room doctors are warning that cuts to women's and children's health services at Birchmount Hospital in Scarborough will lead to substandard care, disability and even deaths.

In a recent letter sent to Minister of Health Christine Elliott and the board and administration of the Scarborough Health Network (SHN), 41 physicians condemned plans to remove obstetrics and in-patient pediatrics from the hospital.

"We see no clear plan for safety for north Scarborough's children and women," the letter states. "We write to you now to say that the decision to remove these services is mistaken and will bring harm and even death to the most vulnerable in our community, and the risk to children and women who may come to emergency is significant and unmitigated by SHN plans.

"There is still opportunity to abandon these dangerous plans, and we urge you to do so immediately and restore trust in the hospital's direction."

Denis Lanoue, who is the president of the Heathwood Ratepayers Association that is located near the Hospital, said in a statement the facilities are set to close in seven weeks.

"It's no wonder doctors are issuing stark warnings, as they see their patients endangered because the premier and the minister refuse to live up to their commitments," he said.

Cardiologist Dr. Raymond Chan said in a previous interview the impending closure will take away services from a population of about 200,000 people.

The services to be cut will be relocated to Centenary and General hospitals, which are also part of the Scarborough Health Network.

We feel that our opinions on the matter are linchpin and our safety concerns should be addressed.- Physician letter

In the letter, the doctors say they have not been consulted on the cuts, nor asked to provide any input about any plans to move services.

"It is our medical opinion as front-line physicians that a community hospital in suburban Toronto such as the Birchmount should have these on-site services as a standard of care," the letter says. "Anything less is substandard and places at risk the health of the community's children and women.

"As the physicians expected to take the lead when critically ill children and women come to the hospital's emergency, we feel that our opinions on the matter are linchpin and our safety concerns should be addressed."

Patient safety

Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Elliott, said in an email that the province's top priority is patient safety.

"At the same time, the ministry respects hospitals' responsibility to make independent decisions about their operations, so long as these decisions uphold and protect access to quality care," she said.

The minister had a meeting with residents about the cuts, Chazan said, and so Elliott wrote to the SHN board chair to make clear the province "does not support the closure of this hospital or its emergency department.

"In response, Scarborough Health Network confirmed that the changes to women's and children's program were made to improve care and that the hospital has no plans to close the Birchmount or its emergency department," she said. 

"Additionally, the hospital committed to continue engaging with local residents about changes to its women's and children's program to protect safe, high-quality care."

SHN chief of staff Dr. Dick Zoutman told CBC News in an email that as there are three hospitals in Scarborough, the network is trying to place services where they can "provide the best results for everyone in our community.

"This isn't about cuts," he said, noting the announcement of a new stroke care centre at the hospital.

"The changes to the women's and children's program will result in better services to mothers and their babies and will allow us to provide more specialized care for our entire community."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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