The 2013 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 11, 2014.
The Windsor Star provided sustained coverage of Cancer Care Ontario’s plan to cancel thoracic surgery in the city and the public battle to keep this vital health care service in the city. As a result of the coverage, the government reversed its decision. Senior editor Brian Cross describes the Star’s investigation.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On Sept. 23, the head of Cancer Care Ontario wrote a menacing letter, threatening to withdraw all the money it provides for local cancer surgeries, unless Windsor’s hospitals stopped doing thoracic cancer surgery.
Sending very sick lung and esophageal cancer patients two hours away to London was something the hospitals had been resisting for years. And not just because patients and families would be severely inconvenienced. It would also mean the departure of our three thoracic surgeons, with no one left to do non-cancerous thoracic work – stabbings, gunshot wounds, car accidents, collapsed lungs, diagnostic assessments, and pre- and post-operative care.
The CCO demand would lead to such an unravelling of health care that local doctors decided to go public to The Windsor Star. What ensued was a barrage of coverage – stories, editorials, columns, and editorial cartoons – that challenged CCO’s reasons, created a surge of public outrage and forced the government to reverse the move within three weeks.
Countering CCO’s claim that it was trying to make cancer care “consistent across the province,” we showed there were already two centres with caseloads similar to Windsor’s that had been granted exemptions.
The CCO maintained that thoracic cancer surgery centres had to have at least 150 cases annually in order to achieve the critical mass necessary for good outcomes. But we demonstrated CCO could produce no data to show that Windsor’s outcomes were sub-par. We showed there were actually six other centres in Ontario doing volumes well below the minimums CCO cited as it tried to shut down Windsor’s program.
We recounted the stories of the hardships encountered by cancer patients who had to travel to London for their treatments. And we pressured politicians to change their minds.
Initially the Health Minister Deb Matthews supported the conduct of CCO. She said it was “doing a great job.” Premier Kathleen Wynn also publicly backed CCO.
But the population was incensed by how unfairly Windsor was being treated. Petition drives and town hall meetings were held, a campaign was launched to knock on 40,000 doors, and local NDP MPPs pounded the government each day in Question Period. MPP Taras Natyshak questioned if CCO had “gone rogue” after The Star revealed that – contrary to assurances from Matthews that she had put the lid on the CCO ultimatum – CCO had already held back its funding for cancer surgeries.
It took 19 days for the government to back down. Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj says The Star’s coverage was “the catalyst for a remarkable decision reversal which will benefit patients for many years to come.”
Thanks very much.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 11, 2014.