A battle to the bitter end

PATRICIA CHISHOLM March 17 1997

A battle to the bitter end

PATRICIA CHISHOLM March 17 1997

A battle to the bitter end

PATRICIA CHISHOLM

Kay Wicks could barely contain her anger. Like thousands of other women, she was furious over last week’s recommendation that Women’s College Hospital in downtown Toronto should move most of its programs to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in suburban North York and close its doors by 1999 at the latest. Wicks, a retired teacher, became a patient at Women’s College eight years ago when she was treated there for a crippl ing form of arthritis. Since then, she has also endured breast cancer and been cared for at several Toronto facilities. “I learned a lot about other hospitals in this city and just how good Women’s College is,” she recalls. Her experience led her to become an activist for the hospital, which she says provides a highly personalized approach to women’s health care. ‘Tm appalled at this closure,” she says. “I shudder to think what will happen to things like the breast program, which sees 8,000 women a year."

Staff members at the small, 167-bed hospital seemed equally shaken—and vowed to fight the government plan. Hospital administrators were particularly incensed that the panel making the recommenda-

tions ignored a recently forged, cost-cutting alliance with nearby Wellesley Central Hospital, which is also slated for closing. Officials at Women’s College say the much larger Sunnybrook—1,014 beds—is too far away from its core of downtown patients, and that it lacks sympathy for women’s health concerns. And Women’s College vice-president Eleanor Ross, a former nurse, said that programs like the 24-hour sexual assault centre, which is to be moved to the emergency department of the huge Toronto Hospital, will suffer. “Ours is a nurse-run, nurturing approach,” she says. “At Toronto, it’s hi-tech, go-go. That’s not what an assaulted woman needs.”

A forced move, administrators say, will fatally undermine the expertise that recently prompted the World Health Organization to designate Women’s College an international research partner in women’s health—the only such institution in the Western Hemisphere. Women’s College is also irreplaceable as a medical innovator, says chief operating officer Patricia Campbell. In 1994, for example, Women’s College established a clinic for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease that afflicts many more women than men, and in 1996, a cardiac rehabilitation centre geared to the needs of female heart patients. “We help women with problems that are chronic and debilitating, but not necessarily sexy,” says Campbell. “I don’t think there is anybody else who is going to do it.”