It’s not a situation unique to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) as facilities across the province are grappling with staffing challenges, inpatient overcapacity and stressed emergency departments. All of which is creating capacity challenges which ultimately impact those requiring emergency care. In an interview with Karen Davies, STEGH president and CEO, on Thursday (June 30), she confided that the hospital is dealing with a more than 30 percent increase in ER visits. “In March of this year, we were seeing about 900 patients a week and now we’re seeing over 1,200 patients. “And so the impact in our emergency department and also our inpatient side where we added 22 new beds in the early days of the pandemic. “All 22 of those beds are full.”
The first Elgin-Middlesex-London candidate forum for the June 2 provincial election was held this past Tuesday at the St. Thomas Public Library.
Hosted by the Elgin-St. Thomas Coalition to End Poverty, the two-hour session featured 10 questions from coalition members relating to poverty, homelessness, a living wage and mental health issues.
The three hopefuls present were PC candidate Rob Flack, Liberal candidate Heather Jackson and NDP candidate Andy Kroeker.
Moderated by the myFM news team featuring Kennedy Freeman and myself, the event kicked off what will be a hectic 28-day runup to the election itself.
Not present for the forum but who have now declared their candidacy are Matt Millar from the New Blue Party of Ontario, Brigitte Belton of the Ontario Party and Amanda Stark of the Green Party of Ontario.
Earlier this month, the province announced the St. Thomas Police Service is to receive $786,925 in funding for community-based safety and policing initiatives.
That should be tempered by the fact funding is spread over three years.
A portion of the money will support an initiative to deal with a modern-day reality in the majority of communities across Ontario while the remainder will support a local program that is a throwback to policing from a bygone era.
In the first scenario, the funding will allow for a uniform officer to remain with the Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) to ensure a public safety presence.
As Chief Chris Herridge observed a year ago in this corner, “Our community is facing increasing social-related issues resulting in a rise in crime and a feeling of being unsafe in our downtown.
“We immediately need a ‘boots on the ground’ professional health team (mental health, medical, addictions, housing, etc.) in our downtown in partnership with the St. Thomas Police Service who will assist when public safety is a concern.
“The police require a team of experts so we can triage these health-related calls and the appropriate assistance/supports can be provided.”
The three major parties have now announced their candidates to run in Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial vote.
All three were acclaimed.
In the first week of March, the NDP announced Andy Kroeker as their candidate to contest the riding with the Conservatives’ Rob Flack and the Liberals’ Heather Jackson.
Kroeker has been the executive director of the West Elgin Community Health Centre for the past dozen years.
Working in health care, Kroeker says he has witnessed how underfunding has impacted rural communities in particular.
It’s just one item on a substantial “laundry list” of concerns that need to be addressed.
“Certainly I have my concerns about healthcare,” stresses Kroeker, “social services and affordable housing and education.
“So there is a long laundry list, I guess, of things which are challenging in a post-COVID environment.”
It has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”
There is a 29-year-old St. Thomas resident who has been arrested 29 times since 2019, with 77 Criminal Code charges, 34 of those related to property crime, six related to trespassing, four drug-related charges and 39 fail-to-comply charges.
Twenty-six of those were withdrawn. And overall, 45 charges were withdrawn.
St. Thomas Police have checked on this individual’s well-being 19 times, including for overdoses and that person was reported to police 63 times as an unwanted or suspicious person because that person experienced homelessness or still does.
As they say on television crime dramas, those are the facts.
However, this is a real-life situation and not drawn from a reality show.
And it’s the type of ongoing police interaction that has St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calling for a two-stream justice system.
There is no approved site on which to begin construction. The wish list of options is rather lengthy. And, as for the cost, we’ll let Mayor Joe Preston opine on that rather important consideration.
Of course, we’re talking about a possible community and aquatic centre now being studied by a technical committee struck to “create a physical concept plan and determine the location for a new community and aquatic centre in order to be prepared for future funding opportunities.
A report from the committee was presented to city council at its final meeting of the year on Dec. 20.
Members unanimously approved moving forward with the next exploratory stage which includes reviewing financial partnerships with surrounding county municipalities, reviewing potential operating partnership opportunities and retaining a consultant to determine a Class C cost estimate for such a facility.
City manager Wendell Graves ball-parked consulting fees at $10-$15,000.
He’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”
City council’s unanimous approval of a move to a paperless municipal vote in 2022 generated plenty of pushback, questions and conspiratorial warnings.
So, why not go right to the target of all this distrust and anger, Simply Voting Inc., and talk to the founder, Brian Lack.
It’s the firm that will undertake the electronic vote in the 2022 municipal vote in St. Thomas, as they did in a limited fashion in the 2018 municipal election.
We won’t hold the face he is a Montreal Canadiens fan against him. He is an interesting and knowledgeable individual who is refreshingly forthright.
“I’m the first to admit there is no such thing as 100 per cent security. Nothing on the internet is 100 per cent secure, but we still use it.
“There are people who say we bank online so we should vote online. But actually, it’s not quite the same thing.
“In a way, there is probably more danger with voting online because if my back account is hacked and I’m missing a few hundred dollars, I’m going to know about it.
“If your vote is hacked, how does anybody know? It is not the same analogy.”
“But we have a lot of in-house expertise on security and we work with security companies and we’re following the best practices to make it as secure as possible.”