Clinic fight not over yet: Bedard Public input never promised, Hamilton says

A group of concerned citizens is vowing to keep up the fight to have the public heard after town council opted Monday night not to reconsider its resolution passed last month to finance the Group Health Association and have the non-profit group manage the Fort Frances Clinic.
“We’re shocked. We’re absolutely shocked,” group spokesman Allan Bedard said after Monday night’s meeting.
“Simply because they represent the people, and there’s been a huge outcry not only from Fort Frances, but from surrounding residents out of Couchiching and the other municipalities, Devlin, Emo, Rainy River, whom the rostering of the family health team concept here will affect dramatically.
“We thought they [council] would be responsible enough at least to get the input of he community,” Bedard added. “Obviously, for some unknown reason—and they’re talking timelines—they can’t do this.
“I find that to fall on some pretty deaf ears here tonight.”
“We’re going to recoup and, if necessary, do what we have to do to come back on this issue—even if it’s legal,” he stressed. “I guess I can say to council the opportunity was there. Hopefully, you’ll rethink this and we don’t have to go the long route.
“But if you don’t, we’ll be there to help you think about it,” Bedard vowed.
He noted council hasn’t seen the last of the group of citizens who were on hand Monday night.
“There’s some severe consequences that will develop as far as political fallout from the decision they made tonight,” Bedard said. “It tells me quite clearly they’re certainly neglecting one huge majority, not only from this community, but other communities, as a result of what they’ve done.
“It’s tragic.”
“It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings,” added Nick Wihnan.
Coun. Todd Hamilton, who brought forward the motion at council’s Oct. 24 meeting to work with the GHA, said yesterday that process will continue to move forward.
In fact, he said the public meeting held Oct. 12 was, more than anything else, an information session prior to council moving ahead with GHA. Council, after all, already had passed a resolution at its Sept. 26 meeting to support, in principle, the proposal from GHA.
“When the Fort Frances Clinic approached the town to help them, to participate, there was a simple question: yes or no?” said Coun. Hamilton. “They had a proposal they had put together and we just had to say, ‘Yes, I want to be involved’ or ‘No, I don’t.’
“Part of the issue dealing with the Town of Fort Frances is [that] the public should be informed about what’s going on, especially when it involves health care,” added Coun. Hamilton.
“So we decided, as a council, to have a public meeting when we had enough information to release to the public regarding the Group Health-Fort Frances model and how it would unfold.
“We agreed to have a public meeting, we set it up,” noted Coun. Hamilton. “We had two of our valuable physicians there to answer any questions, we had a representative from Group Health that going to set our own Group Health-Fort Frances, and we had some other political figures there.
“Mayor [Dan] Onichuk made a statement, on his own behalf, that there would be more public meetings,” he added.
“Now, Mr. Onichuk has the right to express his personal opinions whenever or wherever he chooses. But council did not direct him, or authorize him, to state that there would be more public meetings.
“He said it himself, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
“[But] it should go on the record [that] council didn’t direct him or authorize him to say there would be any more public meetings. There doesn’t need to be. It’s done,” stressed Coun. Hamilton.
Bedard, along with a large group of concerned citizens, appeared before council at Monday night’s meeting to present a petition with more than 1,800 signatures requesting council put a moratorium on its decision and allow the public 30, or even 60, days to provide the input it was promised regarding the future of the clinic.
Bedard said at that time, judging from the petition which he and others have been circulating over the past three weeks, it’s clear the public does not agree with council’s actions.
He noted he was “overwhelmed” by the number of signatures, and further surprised by the fact about 200 of them belonged to residents from outlying communities who were concerned about the impact of the change in clinic management.
“We’re not asking for confrontation. We’re just asking for the input we were promised,” said Bedard, adding there are other ideas out there regarding the clinic, including having private owners, moving the clinic into the hospital, and having a strip mall where the clinic, along with other businesses, would be located.
“Council adopted this resolution not unanimously, but that decision will have a strong impact on the destiny of health care in Fort Frances,” Bedard warned.
While Coun. John Albanese made a motion Monday night to reconsider council’s previous resolution, no other member of council seconded it (because he was chairing the council meeting, Mayor Onichuk was not allowed to second it).
But Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft defended council’s stance, noting that although there was a promise of public input at the Oct. 12 information meeting, waiting 30 or 60 days was too long.
He added he felt GHA is still the right choice—and stood by voting for the resolution passed at the Oct. 24 council meeting.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted the clinic has been owned, run, and maintained by the doctors here for decades, and “people expect this continue forever.”
He added it’s been made clear the current way the clinic operates doesn’t work any longer and changes need to be made. The current doctors could walk away at any time if nothing changes—and no new physicians will come and replace them.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft stressed the $1-million in financing will be paid back, and that the estimated loss of interest on the money may yet be mitigated through different measures.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he remarked.
But Bedard charged that Coun. Wiedenhoeft based his decision on information the public was not privy to, and unlike the public, he actually had an opportunity to voice his opinion on the decision.
Coun. Albanese, who along with Mayor Onichuk had voted against the resolution at the Oct. 24 meeting, maintained council has not seen a proposal from GHA as to exactly what the town’s $1 million will be used for, and that there’s no guarantee the direction the town is heading in will bring new doctors here.
“I feel strongly . . . the people of Fort Frances deserve respect. That’s why they’re here. They need more information,” Coun. Albanese said.