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Mayor Ewald responds to RRHS students' letter

Letter to the Editor
Although I appreciate and applaud the interest taken by four students at RRHS to comment on the Rainy River House project, I feel that some of their ideas and perceptions need to be clarified.
Firstly, I would like to say that this project/issue is not just a Town of Rainy River issue. It is a joint effort including the Town of Rainy River and the Townships of Dawson, Lake of the Woods, Morley as well as Big Grassy First Nation, essentially a total West end District project.
Rainy River House is actually a duplex, two self-contained, furnished houses in one building. The units will provide living accommodations for both locums and medical students who come to Rainy River for physician coverage and clinical setting experience. After looking at existing accommodations in Rainy River and with the results from a survey given to locum doctors who have come to Rainy River previously to provide coverage, the committee, after exploring all options including existing houses, felt that this avenue was the best approach. Although the cost of $700,000.00 has been quoted, in actuality, the final figures have yet to be determined.
The decision to purchase the lots on the river was done for a variety of reasons. The lots are serviced. Waterfront properties anywhere are quite costly to purchase. The Town of Rainy River does not own any river front property that we could use for this project. The committee felt that since the river is a focal point for this community, it would be prudent to build there. The location of the lots, two blocks from the hospital and clinic was also a consideration.
In response to “Rainy River has a stagnant economy,” I would reply that yes, Rainy River has been in an economic decline since CN Rail closed the terminal here. Presently the main employers in the community are basically service and institutional, including hospital, clinic, schools, banking institutions, government offices both municipal and provincial as well as the retail sector. These facts stress even more the importance of maintaining the services we currently have for jobs and economic viability.
To your suggestion that, “This issue should be a call to action for our civic leaders to actually encourage industry to use our unique position and potential to set up long-term meaningful employment within our town,” the Town has been actively pursuing any and all avenues to attract economic development to the area, but to date have been unsuccessful. You need to understand that with the decline of the forestry sector in Northwestern Ontario, all towns and cities are vying for the same opportunities and many are more advantageously poised, whether it be location, population base, skill readiness, or infrastructure ready. Mining is evolving in many areas of the region, and we hope to capitalize on any opportunities this may present.
Another point of clarification in your letter involves the idea that Rainy River House is being built to cater to a “transient population.” The Rainy River Hospital provides care to approximately 2,700 permanent residents in the area. These people are in fact the population we are trying to maintain service for. The doctors and students come to Rainy River to fill a need. By making their experiences here both professionally and personally rewarding, perhaps they will decide to come and live and practice here.
The population in the Town of Rainy River and area has a high percentage of seniors who need and rely on the maintenance of the good medical care they now receive at our facilities. However, if we cannot attract locum doctors to provide relief and coverage for our existing doctors, the emergency room will close along with the three acute care beds we currently have. With no on-site physicians, the clinic will close as well. As for the Long-term Care Facility, a doctor is needed to provide regular coverage for this facility. Will a doctor be willing to drive all the way from Fort Frances to provide this coverage? Will the doctors in Fort Frances, be willing to assume the caseloads that the 2,700 residents from this end of the District will become? Would you like to drive either yourself or a family member to Fort Frances for an appointment every time it is needed? What about emergencies or accidents? Will it be good to rely solely on emergency personnel and paramedics to stabilize patients in order to transfer them the one hour plus, even more from the Morson area, to Fort Frances? All these factors have been taken into consideration by the committee and the feeling is we need to do the best we can to maintain what we have.
You also speak about the retail sector. What do you think will happen if citizens are forced to drive to Emo or Fort Frances for medical appointments? Where will the bulk of their shopping be done? At present, out shopping has had a tremendous effect on the bottom line for many local businesses and in many cases have caused closures.
The next thing you need to understand is that the Council in our community is very aware of the aging infrastructure we live with including roads with potholes and has done projects namely the lagoon and water and sewer line rehabilitation on Atwood Avenue to fix the most pressing problems. These projects have large costs attached to them of which muncipalities are responsible for one third of the costs.
Our beautification committee has been working very hard for the past six years with the Memorial basket and tree program to beautify our community.
Many area businesses, councils and residents have supported and donated to the various programs, trips, and other initiatives from our schools. There is funding available to support breakfast and lunch programs at schools, in fact many are already in place.
You ask why there can’t be a skateboard park for the children in the area. I ask you, “What have you, the users of this park, done to help make this project a reality?”
The Town runs all its facilities and operations with funds raised through property taxes. These taxes are paid by residents and we try to keep them at a reasonable level. Every year it is a greater challenge with increased costs, including utilities, gas, wages to keep taxes down.
We are in a battle with all of Northwestern Ontario and rural Ontario to retain physicians and provide locum coverage. Other communities have the advantage of having corporate sponsors provide the funds for building locum houses. The Rainy River Health Care Committee has been working extremely hard to realize corporate sponsors for the project in the hopes of keeping the costs to the tax payer down.
So in closing, I would hope that my reply has given you some answers to questions you have raised. Can we really afford to not build Rainy River House which will highlight and showcase the natural beauty of the area as well as take advantage of the green technologies in existence to give us a project that will be low maintenance and low operating cost into the future?
–Debbie Ewald,
Mayor and Chair of the Rainy River Health Care Committee