The battle may rage once more in Wallaceburg by Bruce Corcoran

Can you hear that clamour? It's the massive victory rally by Wallaceburg and area residents over the fact the Sydenham District Hospital's future has been spared the executioner's axe, something that could very well have been announced this month.

Can you hear the joyous cheers of victory? Neither can we.

The battle is not over, but merely on government-imposed hiatus.

Earlier this year, the potential closure of Sydenham District Hospital's emergency room, as recommended by a consultant, had Wallaceburg residents reaching for their torches and pitchforks.

The Dr. Frankenstein-like target was the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network, the provincial body that commissioned the Hay Group to look into rural hospital operations. The resulting report recommended closure of Sydenham's ER.

The citizens revolted and were quickly turned from a rabble into a very organized mob thanks to Jeff Wesley, chairman of Save Our Sydenham (SOS) committee.

They besieged the LHIN and the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance over the March break, staging a vehicular visit en masse to both the LHIN and CKHA offices in Chatham, only to be greeted by a lesser-lite at one office and to be all but ignored at another.

But the PR gained through the rally padded the SOS momentum.

The united front impressed even its targets. The health alliance, which had initially stayed away from requesting the LHIN to keep the SDH ER open, changed its tune in late April, asking for an agreement similar in length as the five-year deal struck with Petrolia's hospital.

Jennifer Wilson, a tri-board hospital committee co-chair, gave Wesley perhaps the greatest tidbit of flattery this spring.

"It's hard to get the community engaged when they're infuriated."

Wesley had indeed helped fan the flames of unrest, becoming the unquestioned leader of this revolt.

A month later, the province announced it would establish a panel to examine rural health care across the province. The deferral on the Sydenham ER decision followed soon thereafter.

Take a bow, Mr. Wesley, but, as you are well aware, don't take any time off.

The provincial panel is expected to finish its research late this year.

Still, Wallaceburg and area residents deserve a pat on the back for their efforts, and a little R&R. Enjoy it while you can, as the fight could resume later this year or perhaps early in 2010.

In the meantime, work with CKHA and LHIN officials to help entrench the vital need for the 24/7 ER at Sydenham hospital.