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Saving Grace: Planned consolidation of wards at Scarborough Birchmount hospital sparks community outcry

Resident and community organizer Brian Chang asks whether it makes sense to reduce these services in a heavily racialized area.

Like many of you, I don’t usually think about hospitals until my family members or I experience some sort of emergency. When I have required urgent care, however, I’ve been grateful for the services I can access. That said, like many people, I’m all too aware of the limitations of Ontario’s healthcare system — from long wait times for specialists and in the ER, to lack of available beds, which results in “hallway healthcare.”

Given these concerns, I understand why some Scarborough residents are alarmed about the consolidation of the pediatrics and obstetrics wards at Scarborough Health Network (SHN)’s Birchmount hospital, which many locals still refer to as Scarborough Grace or “The Grace.”

According to a press release, SHN’s board of directors unanimously approved the decision to “integrate the Women’s and Children’s program at the Centenary and General hospitals” at a Jan. 24 meeting. In other words, the inpatient labour, delivery and obstetrics unit and the inpatient pediatric unit will be relocated to SHN’s two other hospitals, which are each roughly a 15-minute drive (or nearly an hour via public transit) south from Birchmount. This move is part of SHN’s restructuring plan, which includes a reinvestment into their programs and services.

“The Board made this decision based on research data and medical input from a team of people who know the program best: physicians, midwives, nurses, and patients and families,” board chair Maureen Adamson said in the release. 

But for local community organizer Brian Chang, the consolidation is troubling because of the populations that Birchmount serves. People of colour make up 73 per cent of Scarborough’s total population.

“When a specific program that is entirely gendered — obstetrics — is targeted for closure, and that program exists in a hospital in a heavily racialized area, we need to take pause and ask what are the motivations of this closure,” he told me over Facebook Messenger. “And further, what are the compounded impacts of this decision?”

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Birchmount is the closest hospital to Chang, a self-described Chinese-Jamaican queer man living with a facial difference, who lives near Kennedy Road and Huntingwood Drive. It’s where his father, who was dying of cancer, received palliative care until a bed opened up at Scarborough General.

Other community members have expressed similar concerns about the consolidation, and are rallying together to oppose SHN’s decision. In a Toronto.com op-ed titled “Birchmount Hospital closures an attack on north Scarborough community,” Denis Lanoue asks SHN to reconsider its decision, and requests that Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care intervene.

For his part, SHN chief of staff Dick Zoutman emphasized that no closures are happening. 

“We are not shutting anything. We are consolidating services. When you come to any site at Scarborough Health Network, you will get the care you need regardless of what you are coming for,” he told me in a phone interview. “By way of example: If you’re having a heart attack, and you come to the General or to the Birchmount, our cardiac intervention program is at the Centenary hospital — and they do a fabulous job. We will get you stabilized, and get you to the Centenary hospital cardiac unit right away so you get the intervention you need.”

“Our goal is to transform the patient health experience. To do that, we are looking at all of the services that Scarborough Health Network delivers to everybody in Scarborough, regardless of where you are in Scarborough,” he added. “Also, to look at what we are not doing, what are the unmet needs in our region and how we can allocate resources we have.”

The move to integrate the two wards will be the focus of a town hall that’ll take place on Feb. 25 at L’Amoreaux Community Recreation Centre. Elected officials, frontline doctors and staff from the hospital, and community members are expected to attend the event.

What do you think of the consolidation? Will it impact you? Email me your thoughts.

Spotlight

Nabiha Haider is a Scarborough native and artist.

Nabiha Haider found her calling as a kinetic sculptor while she was studying at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “Simply put, it’s a sculpture that moves,” she explains, describing her artistic practice.

Finding studio space in Scarborough is one of the challenges Nabiha faces as an emerging artist. Although she says she would’ve loved to stay in the community in which she grew up and went to school, the reality is that most galleries and studio spaces are downtown.

Even so, Nabiha feels that Scarborough should be given a chance to grow. “I think when more and more things are available in terms of [public] transportation, there’ll be more and more events that will follow. More and more workshops will follow, more and more galleries, buildings,” she says.

Story Circle: Transit edition

Less than a week to go! A friendly reminder that our Story Circle: Transit edition takes place this coming Thursday, Feb. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the East Scarborough Storefront.

Even though city councillors — including Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie and Cynthia Lai — are confirmed to attend, there’ll be no talking points allowed. Instead, we want you to share your lived experiences with taking transit in and out of Scarborough. Our hope is that, together, we can surface underreported solutions to the suburb’s transit problems. Please RSVP here and help us spread the word.

Real talk

A recent Twitter thread got Torontonians arguing voting over which TTC subway stops have the best beef patties. Two of the four original options are in Scarborough: Warden and Kennedy stations. Media coverage of the thread prompted one of our Facebook group members to comment that Scarborough needs to weigh in on the debate. Of course, our lovely members obliged:

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And the winner is — was there ever any doubt? — Warden station!

Let’s meet up

  • Feb. 23. Coldest Night of the Year. This family friendly walkathon takes place across Canada on the coldest night of the year. The goal? To raise funds for charities that serve people in need in your community. In Scarborough’s Guildwood neighbourhood, participants will walk in support of Kennedy House Youth Services’ youth homelessness shelter and after-school programs. Registration opens at 4:30 p.m. Walk begins at 5 p.m. and lasts until 8:30 p.m.

  • Feb. 23Parish Movie Night. This free movie screening will showcase The Staircase, which is based on the story of a mysterious man who built a circular staircase at the Loretto Chapel in New Mexico. The unsupported structure, now a popular tourist spot, is considered to be an architectural and engineering marvel. St. Aidan’s Parish. 6:15 to 8:30 p.m.

  • Feb. 23. Book event: The Good Egg. Award-winning children’s author Jory John and illustrator Pete Oswald will be present to discuss their new picture book, The Good Egg. There will crafts, activities and story time for kids. Chapters Scarborough. 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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