Physio clinic’s closing challenged

If East Yorkers want their local hospital’s physiotherapy service to remain open, advocates say they’re going to have to fight for it.

That message came across loud and clear at a town hall meeting regarding the proposed closure of Toronto East General Hospital’s physiotherapy clinic for outpatients.

The Services Employees International Union (SEIU) organized the March 9 meeting, which was held at the S. Walter Stewart library branch. It featured a panel of guest speakers and was attended by about 40 people.

For Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue, the key to saving the clinic is a united front on the part of the community and a willingness to do everything it takes to keep it open.

 “You can stop this government. You are going to have to be brave. You have to be willing to picket,” Prue told those attending the meeting. “If you work in the hospital, you have to be willing to work to rule.”

The closure, scheduled for April 1, was announced in January and will save TEGH $300,000 a year. While nine other OHIP-covered clinics are available for East Yorkers, an under-19 and over-65 age restriction applies. Those between the age cutoffs, meanwhile, must pay the fees directly out of their pockets.

Prue knows firsthand how this can affect the community.

“This last year I had to go see a physiotherapist myself. In my entire life I’ve never had one, but I fell down in Mexico fishing and I broke my arm,” he said. “It was really an eye-opener for me, because without physiotherapy, I don’t know if I’d be able to move my arm the same way again.”

While Prue may have been able to afford the $100 required for an initial assessment at a private physiotherapy clinic, 27-year-old Salza Khakoo cannot.

Khakoo, a student at Centennial College, has been an outpatient at TEGH’s physiotherapy clinic since her 2006 arthroscopic knee surgery. She received a letter a few weeks ago from the hospital explaining the impending closure. 

“The physiotherapists are trying to find a place for me to go, but because I’m a student, I can’t afford the fees at a private clinic,” she said. “People like me will be left with little or no services available.”

To get the help she’ll need after the closure, Khakoo is planning to do physiotherapy at home and check in at a clinic once a month. TEGH physiotherapist Damian Wyard is helping Khakoo learn some basic moves to do at home.

 “It becomes a challenge to do treatment at home by myself,” Khakoo said. “There’s no physiotherapist there to tell me if I’m moving too much or too little. Hopefully I won’t injure myself again.”

The SEIU provided pre-written letters at the meeting for attendees to sign and send to hospital president Rob Devitt demanding that the clinic remain open.

“The power of the people needs to be heard,” Prue said. “You have to be willing to take them on, because if you don’t I can guarantee you one thing — that the government is going to get their way.”

Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns and Ward 31 city councillor Janet Davis were also in attendance at the meeting. They said they are willing to contact hospital and government officials in hopes of saving the clinic.