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Ottawa Valley residents advocate for an end to constant ER closures

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Residents from across the Ottawa Valley gathered in Almonte Thursday for a public hearing to discuss concerns and solutions to the issue of emergency room shutdowns in the region.

The Ottawa Health Coalition says in 2023 there were 17 short-term ER closures at three local hospitals: four in Almonte, two in Arnprior, and 11 in Carleton Place.

"We've had a few at the Arnprior hospital," says Leona Haley, chair of the Renfrew County Health Coalition.

"There's a threat of the more at the Pembroke Regional Hospital, who have put out a notice to say that we should expect longer waits there."

Arnprior resident Lisa Howard fears the ER at her area hospital won't be there when she needs it most.

"I'm a little bit worried about my husband who's got some chronic conditions and I think to myself, you know, what would happen if he needed to go to the emergency?"

The nearest hospital to Arnprior is located in Renfrew, roughly a 20-minute drive away. Surrounding hospitals in Almonte, Carleton Place, and Ottawa are all located even farther away.

Almonte resident Virginia Howard adds that it is not always well known when a rural ER closes, leaving residents scrambling in an emergency.

"There doesn't seem to be any public access to when that happens or a kind of announcement that would be widely broadcast and that everybody would get," she says.

"It happens almost every day, and people's health and people's lives are at risk," said the province's health critic France Gélinas at the meeting in Almonte.

"When a hospital has to close their emergency room, they have to report that to the Ministry of Health. So there's a process to report, but then it falls into a black hole."

In July 2023, the Ford government announced an additional $44-million would be made available to hospitals to help address the staffing crisis and avoid closures.

Haley says part of the issue is the funding of privatized health care services, which can pay health care workers more, pulling them from the public service.

"So it's not a matter of money necessarily. How it's spent, definitely. It's keeping it public, putting those dollars into public to keep what we have."

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