Patrick Porzuczek watched in disbelief Thursday morning as the “emergency” and “H” signs were removed outside the hospital site in Minden, Ont., signifying the closure of its emergency department.
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“It was extremely emotional for me because over the last six weeks this is what we’ve been fighting for — to keep that blue H and that ’emergency’ sign up,” said Porzuczek, one of the main organizers of public campaigns to save the ER. “Seeing those signs down, my heart breaks.”
June 1 marked the closure of the emergency department in Minden and with it a consolidation of services at the hospital in Haliburton30 kilometres north. In late April, Haliburton Highlands Health Services gave six weeks’ notice of the closure – citing ongoing severe staffing challenges as the main reason – to prevent further ER closures at one or both sites.
She reported that in 2022 there were 20 reportable near-miss emergency department closures at the Haliburton site due to physician shortages — but none in Minden.
“The pressure on our staff is absolutely tremendous — it’s not something that was sustainable,” HHHS president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said at a Haliburton County council meeting on April 27.
Plummer on Thursday declined an interview with Global News Peterborough noting the “whole team is focused on making the transition to one ED site a success.” The board has stated no job losses will occur with the consolidation.
“The organization may have updates to share on the other side of the transition, and if so, such updates (will) be provided to media,” she stated.
The April 19 closure announcement caught many in the community off-guard, including Minden Hills Township Mayor Bob Carter who heavily criticized the health board for a lack of consultation and even called for Plummer and board president David O’Brien to resign.
Carter on Thursday told Global News Peterborough that he felt “sick with grief” over the closure.
“Grieving over an institution is not the same as grieving over a person, but this was an important institution in our community over the last 30 years,” he said. “It changed lives and saved lives of many people. So losing something like that is a real blow.”
Residents also questioned the timing given that the area’s population often triples during the summer months. The board has stated that patient volumes were not a factor in the consolidation, stating “millions of dollars” and “multi-year” approval would be needed to create an in-patient space in Minden. There would also be fewer bed spaces than what’s available in Haliburton.
In June 2022, Plummer said the Minden emergency department had 12,768 visits compared with 9,766 for Haliburton over the past year, as reported by The Minden Times. ER visits combined were up by 4,500 compared to 2021.
“We’re a fast-growing and older community because people come here to retire,” said Carter. “The average age is 60. We have many people who require higher care and in some cases they walked to the emergency department. That’s going to be a big loss to the community.”
Plans for a legal injunction by residents fell through earlier this week after raising $85,000 to cover legal fees. However, lawyers are looking into potential challenge under the Canada Health Act.
The community and county rallied with multiple public and social media campaigns including a 5,000-member Facebook group “Save Minden Ontario Emergency Room” founded by Porzuczek and 24,000 signatures on petitions presented at Queen’s Park seeking a one-year moratorium on the closure to find other solutions.
Ontario MPPs join Minden residents in fight to keep ER from closing
Since the closure announcement, the province — including health minister Sylvia Jones — has repeatedly stated the ER closure is a health board decision and that the board manages the site’s daily operations. The Minden hospital itself remains open. Jones has said the decision by the board was “in the best interests of the community.”
In mid-May, the health board unveiled its consolidation plan.
Porzuczek and his group say the plan was “poorly conceived” without consultation from the community and stakeholders.
“The community was ready and willing — they just never asked,” he said. “They never did any consultation or input because they had their own voluntary board. … it was handled in a disgraced matter and it was a really big slap in the face to the whole community. And we’re still waiting for answers.”
Carter echoed his previous sentiment that “hope is not a strategy” regarding the consolidation plan.
“They haven’t talked to us (Minden council) and they don’t want to talk us,” he said. “They don’t really want to listen to voices that aren’t saying ‘yes; to their ideas.”
Porzuczek noted several hundred gathered outside the Minden ER on Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to thank the staff.
A small rally was held Thursday afternoon in Minden to continue to plea for solutions.
“HHHS hit their goal — but I’m not done fighting, I never will be,” said Porzuczek. “I’m not giving up this fight and one day I hope to see a blue H and an ’emergency’ sign back in Minden, Ontario, to serve our whole family.”
On Thursday Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock Conservative MPP Laurie Scottwho has been criticized by residents for not fighting for the ER, issued statements saying she “spent weeks” focusing on any angle or solution to avoid the decision.
“In the end, it does not come down to a funding issue – rather, it is a staffing issue – and the Board has the power to proceed,” she said in a Twitter thread. “I can assure you; going forward, the necessary funding is in place for the staffing requirements at the Haliburton Hospital emergency site.”
Scott touted a proposal to Ontario Health announced Wednesday evening by the Kawartha North Family Health Team to create an urgent care clinic at the Minden ER site. The clinic would not replace the ER services but provide care for individuals with unexpected but non-life-threatening health concerns that require same-day treatment.
“Having no plan in place for the Minden ER location is unacceptable and I have been in action pursuing a solution,” said Scott.
Maria Hodson, KNFHT executive director, says the funding request is for nurse practitioners and registered practical nurses.
“We felt strongly that the option of an urgent care clinic would provide the best opportunity to continue to have health care services locally for the residents of Minden Hills,” she said.
Porzucek says the clinic would be welcome as a “good starting point.”
“It’s not an ED but it is still some help and some relief for the people. It’s going to help. Is it perfect? No. But it is still offering some type of healthcare back to the community.
Also on Wednesday evening, HHHS announced it was partnering with the Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team to help expand health services in the region.
More to come.
— with files from Sam Houpt/Global News Peterborough
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