London patients campaign to save Cardiac Fitness Institute

Jeff Hanks, co-chair of the London Health Coalition, addresses a few dozen people during a campaign to save the Cardiac Fitness Institute. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

The Cardiac Fitness Institute saves lives. Now, those lives are trying to return the favour.

Its patients, alongside family members and a few politicians, gathered at the Victoria Hospital’s Commissioners Road entrance Friday afternoon, in a campaign to save a long-running cardiac program at the London Health Sciences Centre that’s on the chopping block.

“It has enabled me to be a grandmother,” said Brenda Cuming, who has been a CFI patient for 18 years.

READ MORE: LHSC to close Cardiac Fitness Institute

“I was at Cardiac Fitness one day, exercising with everyone else. And I had chest pains, and I was in the hospital — my stint had blocked up again. If I wasn’t there, I could have been working, I could have been doing anything. I didn’t have the resources for someone to just scoop me up and take me to the hospital.”

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Cuming also credits the program for providing her with the tools to eat and exercise properly and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Evelyn McWha shared a similar story from six years ago while working out on a treadmill.

“I wouldn’t be alive today if it were not for CFI.”

McWha says a regular community exercise facility cannot provide the same kind of support or expertise to its visitors.

“Acute care is not the answer to chronic heart disease. The focus needs to be on prevention… this decision must be reversed, so chronic cardiac care patients will continue to benefit from the long-term rehab at CFI.”

The Cardiac Fitness Institute has been operating since 1981, and teaches cardiac patients to take better care of themselves through eating and exercising. Seminars and psychological counselling are also among its offerings to patients.

But LHSC officials announced early this year they were going to shut it down, and post-acute patients would be referred to St. Joseph’s Hospital instead where patients receive up to six months of provincially-funded therapy and counselling.

At the time, outgoing LHSC president and CEO Murray Glendening released a statement saying the LHSC doesn’t receive public funding to support similar services because they fall outside the mandate of acute care hospitals like the LHSC. Hospital brass said the CFI’s annual operating costs are around $300,000, and that they subsidize about 50 per cent.

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Earlier this week at Queen’s Park, Health Minister Eric Hoskins defended the LHSC’s decision, saying it’s based on best evidence with regard to post-cardiac incident care.

READ MORE: Patients plead to keep LHSC’s Cardiac Fitness Institute open

Jeff Hanks, co-chair of the London Health Coalition, argued Friday that the program is cost-effective and pays for itself in reducing the number of patients re-admitted to hospital.

“You would think with our ERs frequently in crisis, they would want to decrease the number of visits,” he said. “This closure is outrageous, mean-spirited, and short-sighted.”

“Mean-spirited,” is also how some described security’s decision to kick the campaign off the property. The group — which consisted of several elderly cardiac patients — originally mobilized outside the doors to the hospital’s D zone, but were forced to walk a couple hundred metres to the Commissioners Street entrance.

Several more people joined the party there, including London-West MPP Peggy Sattler and Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.

“This government, and the future government, need to come up with a cardiac health strategy which incorporates preventative care into our system. And after they’ve done that, they need to fund it properly,” he said.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound in cure.”


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