Niagara Health says it’s set to eliminate after-hours emergency surgeries at the Welland, Ont., hospital starting Monday amid an anesthesiologist shortage.

The change means residents needing the emergency care in the evenings and on weekends will have to check into Niagara Falls or St. Catharines General.

“We will safely move about six per cent of care from Welland to Niagara Falls or St. Catharine’s beginning February the 27th,” Niagara Health CEO Lynn Guerriero said in a statement Friday.

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“People with serious health emergencies that occur in the evening or weekends will be safely and quickly moved to make certain they will have the right team to care for them.”

The hospital network has been answering questions about the Welland site in a series of media releases over the last few weeks, admitting it had been “unable to replace recent departures and (has) expected future retirements” tied to anesthesiologists.

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Typically, the Welland site requires 30 anesthesiologists – a physician trained in giving drugs or other agents to relieve pain during surgery – to maintain a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week level of service.

In a Jan 26. release, it was revealed it only had around 20 available for on-call work, with six eligible for retirement in 2023.

“We are looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the anesthesiologist shortage on patients and best utilize our team,” Niagara Health explained.

The network clarified that Welland’s emergency department will continue to operate 24/7, but emergency surgeries at night or on the weekend after Feb. 27 will be in the hands of St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Niagara Health says it had 57 after-hours emergency cases in Welland for all of 2022.

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Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles joined a pair of MPPs in Welland on Friday using the Welland circumstance to accuse the Ford government of sitting on billions of dollars that could be spent on health care.

Her claim is based on a Financial Accountability Office report in November 2022 saying the PCs underspent in health care by almost $1.8 billion in the last fiscal year.

“Ford’s decision is creating a staffing crisis in our health-care system that has no interest in fixing,” Styles said.

Niagara Center’s Jeff Burch accused the Ontario PCs of reneging on a 2021 motion “to maintain full emergency department and acute care services in Welland.”

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Burch and Welland Major Frank Campion reached out to Guerriero about Niagara Health’s five-year strategic plan, which will see “major updates” to ambulatory care in Welland.

In a joint public letter sent Jan. 17, Burch and Campion expressed concerns over redirecting patients, suggesting the network’s apparent long-term plans are to “permanently remove additional services from the site.”

In his latest statement, Guerriero insisted the five- to seven-year transformation would make the Third Street site “a cornerstone facility” for the region, with major updates to transform it into a modern ambulatory care center with 24/7 emergency services.

“Make no mistake, Welland will be a cornerstone of Niagara health for generations to come,” Guerriero said.

“Day surgery and emergency services will continue and major exciting updates are coming to better serve the people of Welland and South Niagara.”

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