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Editorial: Why isn't it the right time for NEO Kids?

Unqualified support for Health Sciences North's plan for a pediatric treatment centre — a.k.a NEO Kids — in Greater Sudbury comes from every major hospital in Northern Ontario.
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Greater Sudbury Sport Council will hold its 2015 Annual General Meeting Tuesday, April 28.

Unqualified support for Health Sciences North's plan for a pediatric treatment centre — a.k.a NEO Kids — in Greater Sudbury comes from every major hospital in Northern Ontario.

The Northeast Community Care Access Centre says it's a service that's sorely needed, as does the Sudbury and District Health Unit.

So, too, does every school board, Laurentian University, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and Collège Boréal.

The Union of Ontario Indians says NEO Kids would improve the health of those living in remote First Nations communities.

Toronto SickKids Hospital and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa have called the plan both ambitious and necessary to improving children's health in the North, and saving health-care dollars in the long run, while minimizing stress on families and children in the process.

More than a dozen of the city's doctors have signed letters of support.

Provincial data shows us that children in the North get sick at a higher rate than the Ontario average. Children in Northern Ontario have more asthma (one per cent above average), more allergies (four per cent above average) and more weight problems (eight per cent above average).
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which brings with it a host of associated medical issues, occurs in about one per cent of Ontario children.

In some parts of the North, that rate is 19 per cent.

Sadly, more northern children develop cancer than anywhere else in the province. The Ontario average is 150 cases per million children. In the northeast, it's 175 cases per million.

The numbers are troubling.

The North is a gorgeous natural playground dotted with pockets of civilization separated by kilometre upon kilometre of forest, rock and muskeg.

We provide most of the raw material that this province's riches are built upon. In exchange, we are sicker and pay more (in money, travel and stress) for those necessary services that our southern neighbours take for granted.

When our children get sick, more often than not, we have to travel to get them the help they need. The costs of this are enormous: lost productivity, lost wages, higher debt loads — not to mention the unquantifiable emotional cost of worry for a sick child.

Shouldn't parents be free to worry about their child without having to worry the child's illness will cost them their home or their job?

Greater Sudbury provides a central location, close to home, where northern children can get the care they need without breaking their families' bank to do it.

And yet, the Northeast Local Health Integration Network, the government body tasked with doling out provincial health-care dollars based on local needs, doesn't think Health Sciences North has proven the need for NEO Kids.

Last week, the LHIN board said HSN doesn't have the data to back up the $55-million cost of a 40,000-square-foot facility that would not only serve the needs of Greater Sudbury, but also far-flung communities like North Bay, Parry Sound, Moosonee and Hearst, to name but a few.

The LHIN told proponents the hospital hasn't been able to demonstrate on paper that significant numbers of northerners are travelling to Toronto, Ottawa or London for care to warrant spending the money to shorten their journey to Sudbury.

Here are some other things we know. The hospital serves more than 11,000 children a year in a patchwork system that tries to find space where space can be found. They do the best they can.

Our five pediatricians are receiving upwards of 200 new referrals a month. That's not a year, that's every single month that goes by. And that rate is growing.

Health Sciences North is bursting at the seams.

We know 800 referrals were made to Toronto SickKids in the past year alone, just from Sudbury's hospital. This doesn't take into account family doctors in this city. It also doesn't take into account referrals from hospitals and doctors across the North.

We know wait times for some children's services are up to a year.

Here's something else we know. When HSN went to the LHIN's board meeting last week, they were not going looking for a hand out — they weren't asking for the money, not yet.

They were asking the LHIN to give its blessing so that NEO Kids would be included on the province's list of capital projects "for consideration after Ontario's 2017-2018 balanced budget plan is achieved" and puts the province's financial house in order.

We'll say it again: For consideration. That seems a perfectly reasonable request.

But it's something the LHIN refused to provide. What is the LHIN seeing that the rest of us — from media outlets like NorthernLife.ca to Toronto SickKids to the City of Greater Sudbury to Laurentian University to the Union of Ontario Indians — aren't?

We read all 75 pages of the document HSN compiled for the LHIN to make its case. That's where this information comes from, so we know the hospital's position and the position of those institutions and individuals who support the plan.

What we are unsure of is the LHIN's position that the hospital hasn't proved "a business case" for NEO Kids, because that's all the explanation the health network offered.

The hospital offered up data — patient figures, space and staffing limitations, projections — to prove its case.

Ontario's new health-care model aims to provide the right care at the right time in the right place.

Children are not little adults. They deserve to be treated with the right care. The right place is as close to home as possible.

We invite the LHIN board of directors to tell us how and why the hospital's plan is insufficient.

Put another way, Northern Life feels the LHIN needs to prove its business case for why it isn't the right time for NEO Kids.




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