Recently, I discussed the greenfield locations of new hospital and post-secondary institutions in Ontario, focusing on the new St. Catharines Hospital site and the Orillia campus of Lakehead University, but also mentioning the proposed sites of a new hospital for Windsor, and an university campus in Milton. Hospitals and educational institutions are primarily funded by the province, which likes to promote sustainable development policies such as the Greenbelt, and mobility hubs at major transit nodes.
The trouble with these new sites, located far from each city’s urban centre, is that they are difficult to reach by walking, cycling, or public transit. They don’t support downtown businesses, they ignore other potential urban land parcels (often former industrial sites), and are not in accordance with the province’s own land use policies.
I recently returned to Niagara Region to examine Niagara Health’s plan to consolidate health services outside of St. Catharines (where it already merged two urban hospital sites to a single suburban location). It proposes consolidating most health services located in five municipalities (Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne, Fort Erie, and Niagara-on-the-Lake) into one site, at the corner of Biggar and Montrose Roads, south of Niagara Falls’ urban area, but adjacent to an interchange with the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW).
Niagara Falls, like most of urbanized Niagara Region, is de-industrializing, with modest population growth. Employment is largely dependent on public sector jobs, such as the education and health services, and the city’s tourism industry. As a large employer, the hospital should be as accessible to its employees, as well as its patients, as possible.
Map of current Niagara Health sites and proposed new hospital
The proposed hospital site is at the corner of two two-lane country roads, in an area without sidewalks. To the north and west is a golf course; to the south is a Hungarian community hall, farm fields, and a few exurban ranch houses. The land was donated in 2013 by a local business family, but last fall, Niagara Falls City Council was considering purchasing an additional 20 acres for staff parking.
Corner of Montrose and Biggar Roads, where the new Niagara Region hospital is planned
Apart from the fact that the land was donated, the site’s advantage is that it is almost geographically half-way between Niagara Falls and Welland; it’s also in the direction of Fort Erie,further south on the QEW. The site is adjacent to two Niagara Region Transit routes, but those buses only operate hourly (without Sunday or Holiday service), and charge a $6 cash fare, connecting to local transit services at terminal points. (Transfers are accepted between Niagara Region Transit and local services, mitigating the high $6 fare.)
There is a proposal for fully integrating the regional and five local transit systems in Niagara Region; this would be absolutely necessary for adequately serving the new hospital site when local hospitals close.
Niagara Health’s plan is to consolidate and close health services at the five older facilities, all of which are located within their urban areas and served by their local transit systems. The Niagara Falls and Welland sites have full-service emergency rooms, while the Port Colborne and Fort Erie sites have 24-hour urgent care clinics. The Niagara-on-the-Lake site offers very limited outpatient services. (Before the 1990s-era health care restructuring, all five sites had full emergency services.)
Greater Niagara General Hospital, Niagara Falls’ current hospital site to be replaced by the new consolidated location
At the Welland County General Hospital site, Niagara Health is planning a new out-patient ambulatory care centre on the northwest corner of the property. This concept is similar to the new Peel Memorial Health Centre on the site of Brampton’s former full-service hospital. Emergencies, birthing, and visits requiring overnight hospital stays would still require making the trip to the new Niagara Falls site.
Welland County General Hospital, Welland. Most services will be consolidated; a smaller ambulatory care centre is planned for the site.
The construction of new health centres in Niagara Falls and Windsor are now funded, and unfortunately, and the new exurban hospital sites will be going ahead. This should be a scandal, but it’s hard to fight against building modern new hospitals, and suburban politicians in Niagara and Windsor-Essex aren’t very interested in arguments favouring urban locations.
Port Colborne General Hospital, to be closed as part of Niagara Health’s plans