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'Scarborough deserves better': Dozens rally against cuts to Birchmount Hospital

Dozens of people took to the street Saturday to protest service cuts coming to Birchmount Hospital in Scarborough, where the administration plans to remove obstetrics and in-patient pediatrics wards at the end of October.

Hospital plans to remove obstetrics, in-patient pediatrics later this month

Several people marched and rallied outside the Birchmount Hospital in Scarborough on Saturday afternoon. (CBC)

Dozens of people took to the street Saturday to protest service cuts coming to Birchmount Hospital in Scarborough, where the administration plans to remove obstetrics and in-patient pediatrics wards at the end of October.

Multiple doctors have previously warned that the cuts to women's and children's health services will lead to substandard care, disability and even deaths. Meanwhile, the Scarborough Health Network says the changes will improve healthcare in the area.

The services are set to be relocated to Centenary Hospital and Scarborough General on October 30.

"I don't think this is a safe move," Dr. Douglas Mark, president of Doctor's Ontario, told CBC Toronto at the rally.

Dr. Douglas Mark, president of Doctor's Ontario, says cutting services at the hopistal "isn't a safe move." (CBC)

He said the area has many low-income residents, as well as immigrants — and their "Canadian human rights are being trampled by this move."

The question is, "when will a woman or child be harmed by this cut?" said Mark.

In a letter sent last month, 41 doctors said they had not been consulted on the cuts, nor asked to provide any input about any plans to move services.

Dozens protested outside the hospital on Saturday afternoon. (CBC)

"We haven't been consulted at all," said Denis Lanoue, president of the Heathwood Ratepayers Association.

"It makes absolutely no sense for a woman or a child in need of immediate care to show up at a hospital and be transferred to another hospital. They may die as a result of it."

A young protester at the Birchmount Hospital rally Saturday. (CBC)

Local city councillor Jim Karygiannis is calling on the provincial government to intervene, but says he's getting "deaf ears." 

He says the hospital, also known as the Scarborough Grace, serves the some 350,000 peopl who live north of Highway 401 and south of Highway 7.

"These people are going to be left out to dry," Karygiannis said Saturday.

Local city councillor Jim Karygiannis says the province is not responding to calls to intervene. (CBC)

Changes will improve care, says health network

The Scarborough Health Network says the changes will improve healthcare for women and children.

While the wards may be cut, there will still be 24/7 coverage for pediatrics and obstetrical care at the Birchmount site, said Dr. Bert Lauwers, executive vice president of medical and clinical programs at the network. 

Bert Lauwers is executive vice president, medical and clinical, with the Scarborough Health Network. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"In addition to that, just at the Birchmount, we're setting up a clinic which will be operational and it will run 12 hours a day 7 days a week and will be staffed with a pediatrician," he said.

Lauwers said there was "lots" of community consultation around the decisions.

"Scarborough deserves better," was among the messages on signs at Saturday's rally. (CBC)

In a statement, a spokesperson for the province's Ministry of Health said they respect hospitals' responsibility to make "independent decisions about their operations, so long as these decisions uphold and protect access to quality care."

SHN chief of staff Dr. Dick Zoutman previously 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.

People of all ages rallied Saturday afternoon. (CBC)

"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."
Dozens of people marched on Saturday, chanting "Save the Grace. Keep the Grace full." (CBC)

With files from Talia Ricci

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