“We will not be quiet anymore! We will not go away! Our voices will only get stronger and stronger until you keep your promise!”
That was the rallying cry for Rexdale Community Health Centre (CHC) Monday afternoon, as more than 100 local seniors and supporters gathered at the Rexdale Hub to call upon the provincial government to keep its 2006 promise to fund the capital development of a health centre satellite in Jamestown.
“When we think about the vision we had for the Rexdale Community Hub, it was one that included community health services. It’s a shame that we’re still – even after seven years – still waiting to get the capital funding that we need to develop our Jamestown satellite,” said Safia Ahmed, executive director of Rexdale CHC.
“I don’t think we’re in a position where we can wait any longer. We need to have our voices heard, to march on, and to make sure the Ontario government keeps its promise to this community.”
Back in 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care pledged its support to the further development of community health centres in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods – including a satellite centre in Jamestown.
In a backgrounder that accompanied Premier Dalton McGuinty’s pledge to expand primary health care across the province, community health centres were praised for ensuring that “Ontarians who face access barriers such as race, language, poverty, physical disabilities, or geographic isolation have access to primary health care and community health programs.”
“As part of that initiative, the government is investing in the priority neighbourhoods identified in the City of Toronto’s Strong Neighbourhoods Report,” the document reads, listing Jamestown as among one of eight communities in Toronto earmarked to receive funding for a new satellite centre.
In a written statement emailed to The Guardian Friday, Nov. 9, Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen said that, since those announcements were made, “the size and cost of community projects have increased significantly, affecting the number of capital projects that the ministry can invest in any fiscal year.”
“The Rexdale Community Health Centre’s Jamestown satellite proposal will continue to be considered for capital funding by the ministry,” the statement reads.
Still, Ahmed said, seven years is a long time to wait for the $3.4 million Rexdale CHC needs to develop its satellite – especially since the prime space reserved for the Jamestown satellite at the new Rexdale Community Hub (located at the former Father Henry Carr Secondary School site on Panorama Court) remains cavernous and empty.
And the satellite’s hundreds of potential clients, who have been waiting so long for the accessible medical services close to their homes they so desperately need in Jamestown, have been left feeling “abandoned.”
Rexdale Concerned Seniors’ Rose Farrell, Hyacinth Hamilton and Lola Are were just three among the more than 100 such potential clients who came out to Monday’s rally to call on McGuinty, Minister of Health Deb Matthews and Etobicoke North MPP Shafiq Qaadri – who was invited to Monday’s rally but did not attend – to keep their funding promise.
“Residents are walking into the hub’s empty space and wondering when they can finally come to see a doctor or a nurse practitioner or a physiotherapist. We cannot wait any longer,” said Hamilton, noting that Rexdale Concerned Seniors hand delivered 780 petitions to the minister’s office earlier this year.
“It’s about time the McGuinty government kept its promise to this community and funds the Jamestown satellite community health centre. Seven years is a long time to wait and we are fed up. We want to see action and we want to be taken seriously.”
While Qaadri was absent from Monday’s rally – and did not respond to Guardian requests for comment – Etobicoke North representatives from both the municipal and federal levels both lent their support to Rexdale CHC’s bid for funding.
MPP Kirsty Duncan, who was in Ottawa Monday, sent an assistant to the event to read her letter of support, while Councillor Vincent Crisanti showed up to share a few words of encouragement.
“Continue the fight and I will stand with you,” he said. “The province and the ministry have to start releasing funds now – immediately. There’s no excuse the money isn’t there.”
That sentiment was echoed by Jayne Mullin, director of legal services for Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, one Rexdale CHC’s partner agencies at Rexdale Community Hub.
“This is something the Ministry of Health and the Liberal government should really seriously think about,” she cautioned. “What kind of legacy do they want to leave? Do they want to leave a legacy of enhancing services that are going to make this community a better, healthier and safer place to be? Or do they want to leave a legacy of broken promises for a vulnerable community very much in need?”