The cheers cascaded over the parking lot as Gary Barrett made the case for saving the Toronto Grace, one of the last remaining Salvation Army hospitals in the country.

“We are proud of the vital health services we provide,” Barrett, a 20 year employee and Toronto Grace CUPE union steward, told the crowd. “We are not going to let the Liberal government shut us down or cut our services.”

He described a hospital that had fought off threats to shut down in the past, that had served the Church Street community with continuing care, rehabiliation and palliative care. He told of a hospital that needed to protect every bed and every service. As a result, he said, it won’t be closed to make room for a property developer.

Cuts and closures of local hospitals across Ontario has been one of the most controversial hallmarks of Premier McGuinty’s government. And it is taking on a new urgency as the Liberals look for ways to grapple with a $25 billion dollar deficit.

“On Friday I asked the Salvation Army to give the Grace Hospital Board of Directors an extension to develop a plan to continue offering services at that location, said Deb Matthews, Health and Long Term Care Minister in a statement Monday. “I also asked the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to hold back on issuing its RFP (request for proposal) to give the board more time to come up with a plan.”

Matthews said she will be meeting on Tuesday with representatives from the Toronto Grace Health Centre Board of Directors and the Canadian Union of Public Employees “to discuss the importance of the services at Toronto Grace.”

Board vice chair Al Duffy said at Monday’s rally he’s been clearly told that the hospital will remain open. “And that was the message I was really looking forward to,” he said.

But NDP Toronto Centre candidate Cathy Crowe wasn’t as optimistic as Duffy.

“I haven’t seen the Minister of Health or the Premier holding a press conference saying ‘It is staying under the same directorship with the same staff and patients’,”she said. “Not one patient or family member should have to go through one more uneasy day of anxiety about where they’re living the rest of their life or perhaps dying.”

While Crowe was pleased with the Minister’s decision to meet with CUPE and the board, she emphasized the need to make a final decision on the Grace within days.

Toronto Grace Health Centre is a 119 bed palliative and complex continuing care facility that has been providing care in the heart of downtown Toronto for the past 100 years. However, last week the Salvation Army announced that it is divesting its hospitals to focus on other programs.

The hospital has never run a deficit and has a healthy reserve fund, enough to enable the board to buy the site from the Salvation Army.

Since 1998, the Toronto Grace Hospital has been home for Paul Bacakos’s wife, who suffers from chronic progressive multiple sclerosis.

“It gives the best possible care for my wife and I hope we can continue to call it home in the future,” he said. “Leaving the Grace, I don’t think I’d get another good night’s sleep.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.