Residents from Minden, Ont., made a second trip to Queen’s Park on Wednesday seeking a one-year moratorium on the closure of a hospital emergency department in the central Ontario village.
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A petition with more than 17,100 signatures asking for a moratorium was brought to the legislature in ongoing efforts to counter the June 1 planned closure of the ER — nearly 95 per cent of the population of Haliburton County.
In late April, Haliburton Highlands Health Services announced the ER would be closing in six weeks and its services would be consolidated and relocated to the hospital in Haliburton, about 30 kilometres northeast.
The health board has repeatedly said the closure is due to “severe” staffing shortages of nurses and medical staff. CEO and president Carolyn Plummer has said both Minden and Haliburton sites would face emergency, last-minute closures this summer if consolidation doesn’t occur, calling the closure an “operational decision that had to be made.”
In late April, residents presented a 3,300-signature petition seeking a moratorium at Queen’s Park.
NDP MPPs Chris Glover and France Gelinas again during Question Period asked Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones to intervene in the closure and implement a moratorium. They highlighted nearby organizations, such the hockey arena and a long-term care home attached to the hospital, that rely on the ER for quick and timely care.
“The Ontario Health Coalition informs me that this is the first time in Ontario a health minister has refused to take responsibility for a hospital closure,” Glover said. “Because of this closure, lives will be at risk over the summer because of the long ride to the Haliburton hospital. Does the minister understand that those lives are her responsibility?”
Jones again on Wednesday said the government supports the decision made at the community level, noting Minden hospital as a whole is not closing.
“All of the other critically important services that currently happen in the Minden hospital will continue to happen in the Minden hospital,” Jones said.
“There is no doubt that when changes happen — including emergency department closures — it is very challenging for the community. But I want to reassure and remind the member opposite that these are local decisions based on the local leadership at the local hospital.”
Minden Hills Township Mayor Bob Carter has called the ER closure decision an “ill-advised, ill-timed and ill-planned decision.” Council says there was no prior consultation about a closure and challenged the timing of the closure in June, given the area’s population of 7,000 often triples during the summer months with an influx of cottagers and tourists.
Jones, when pressed by Gelinas about overturning the closure, said government needs to trust community leadership.
“Now a member opposite is suggesting we need to override community hospital leadership decisions and board-supported decisions — it is very unfortunate that they have not supported the local decision made by hospital leadership at the Haliburton Health Services,” she said.
Dozens of area residents were decked out in yellow shirts outside the legislature, matching the colour of the signs of their “Minden Matters” campaign.
Among them was Norman Bess, a seasonal resident who says he doesn’t think he would be alive today if it were not for the urgent care at the ER following a heart attack in September 2017.
Another was Patrick Porzuczek, who brought his daughter to Queen’s Park to highlight her care at the Minden ER after staff discovered an irregular heartbeat this spring.
“I am going to fight my heart out for this, for my daughter and our community,” he said. “Six weeks’ notice with no real plan is unconscionable. We cannot and will not stand for this. The government and the Minister need to step in and grant this moratorium. This is about people’s lives.”
Since the April 20 announcement of the closure, residents have held several rallies, created a Facebook group, “Save Minden Ontario Emergency Room,” that has about 4,500 followers, while a subsequent online petition had garnered more than 9,600 signatures as of Wednesday.
The Ontario Nurses Association has stated the closure of the Minden ER is a “preview” of additional permanent ER closures in the province.
Glover at a media conference after Question Period said the staffing crisis across the province was “manufactured by this government’s out-of-touch policies like Bill 124 which have pushed healthcare workers out of our public hospitals.
“Emergency departments all over the province have had to close their doors due to staffing shortages, but this was not an issue in Minden,” he said. “This government’s sudden decision to close the Minden emergency department will cost people their health and future.”
Liberal leader John Fraser echoed the NDP MPP’s sentiments.
“I think it (closure) is the wrong thing to do for that community,” he said. “And really what it comes down to is a shortage of the people who we need the most — nurses, front-line healthcare workers — that in part in has to down in part with the government’s approach to Bill 124. And the Minister should — as MPP Gelinas suggested — step in and stop this from happening.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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