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Health ministry throws lifeline to West Lincoln hospital

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 As Health Minister Deb Matthews helped to officially open the new $180-million Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre May 14 after five years of construction, she provided some solace to Grimsby, and Winona residents after her government pulled the plug on their new rebuilt hospital plans.

“The project will happen sooner or later,” said Matthews in an interview. “So don’t lose hope.”

The Liberal government dashed the expectations of thousands of Grimsby residents in March when it scrapped plans to rebuild the aging West Lincoln Memorial Hospital. The $136.8 million rebuilt was entering its request for proposal stage this summer with the assistance of Infrastructure Ontario officials, after the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) gave its approval for the project. Construction had been set for August 2013.

Matthews said the WLMH project isn’t included in the Liberal’s five-year capital plan. But in the next five-year capital forecast, the West Lincoln hospital could be included on the provincial government’s wish list.

“I’m not saying it absolutely will be (in the next five-year capital program). I don’t know that yet. But it sure would have a good chance,” she said.

“I know it’s important to the community,” added Matthews.

On May 2 about 10,000 people rallied at the Grimsby Secondary School football field to kick off its “Make a Difference” petition campaign to convince the Liberals to re-start the project. The campaign is scheduled to end May 25. The campaign has over 5,000 signatures.

Hamilton Health Science officials, which provides management support to WLMH, including a CEO, have talked about re-thinking how to provide health care to the Grimsby,Winona andLincoln areas. Ideas include building stand alone centres for birthing, ambulatory care and urgent care.

Matthews agreed with the need to look at providing health care differently for the West Lincoln area.

“I think it s a good time to be thinking about a different way to do it,” said Matthews. “I’m not going to pre-judge (the options). I think the hospital and the LHIN should be having that conversation. If there is a way to provide better care for people, then let’s do it.

“Health care is changing a lot and I think it’s important capital projects reflect the changing nature of how health care is delivered. This is a good opportunity to explore different options.”

Progressive Conservative leader and MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook Tim Hudak has called the decision by the Liberals to halt hospital construction mostly in Tory-representative ridings, partisan politics “of the worse kind.”

Matthews takes exception to that, arguing Hudak didn’t even consider hospital construction in the budget as essential to his riding untilGrimsbyresidents held their rally. She said in the Tory election platform, it encouraged spending for transportation, and not hospitals.

“He was not supportive of hospital infrastructure,” said Matthews. “It took a rally of 10,000 people to get him talking about hospitals. He didn’t breath a word, he didn’t come over and ask me about the project. Tim Hudak, as much as anyone, urged us to reduce spending to solve the fiscal crisis.”

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