On April 17, the Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) announced that it would be permanently closing its emergency room in Minden, Ont. as of June 1. The decision was made in response to a shortage of nursing and medical staff needed to keep the site operational. Instead, the HHHS will consolidate the Minden ER with the Haliburton hospital one town over.
“We’ve heard from and are responding to the needs of our clinical staff, who are experts when it comes to patient safety and delivering high-quality care,” said Carolyn Plummer, the president and CEO of HHHS in a statement. “This decision is about maintaining the safety of our patients, the sustainability of our services and the care our patients receive, and the well-being of our staff teams.”
All staff from the Minden site will be transferred to Haliburton with no jobs lost. The health service is working with Ontario Health East and the Ministry of Health to ensure there’s sufficient staff and physicians at the Haliburton emergency department to handle the increased volume of patients. This includes reconfiguring spaces to accommodate more patients in the waiting room and the parking lot.
A 2019 report showed that the Minden ER saw approximately 15,500 patient visits, while the Haliburton site saw approximately 11,300. During a press conference, Plummer said that the reason the Minden ER is being consolidated into the Haliburton site is because an emergency department must be attached to in-patient beds where patients can be transferred. The Minden site doesn’t feature any in-patient beds, while Haliburton has 15.
Minden residents are not happy with the decision though. Patrick Porzuczek, a former Minden firefighter, launched a petition to save the ER. It’s currently received more than 9,000 signatures. Porzuczek pointed out that this decision won’t just affect Minden residents. The ER sees patients from as far away as Lindsay due to its short wait times.
“You got to remember, they’re closing this ER June 1, just before the start of cottage season,” Porzuczek said. “We triple our population during cottage season, and that population doesn’t even know the ER is closing.”
According to Porzuczek, consolidating the two facilities will cause longer wait times in the Haliburton Emergency Department, ambulances will have to drive further distances for emergencies, and it will make health care less accessible for Minden residents.
“Half of the Minden community is low-income families that don’t drive. They walk over to the Minden ER. ” he said. “A taxi fare from Minden central to Haliburton one-way costs $110.”
Porzuczek added that he’s been speaking with Minden’s Mayor, Bob Carter, and none of the town’s elected officials were consulted on the closure.
In an email, Plummer said that the HHHS board of directors and executive leadership team have been in discussions with physicians and nurses at both sites, as well as managers and other stakeholders about potential service reductions since November 2021. She added that the HHHS also discussed its general staffing challenges with local elected officials over the past 18 months.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) has also weighed in on the closure. In a statement, the ONA interim provincial president Bernie Robinson said: “This is yet another example of the consequences of failing to fix the strain our hospital system is experiencing. The closure of Minden’s ER will put the lives of Ontarians needing emergency care at greater risk, leave those in the area with less access to emergency care, and is certain to occur at more Ontario hospitals if the province continues its failure to take meaningful action to retain and recruit nurses.”
Haliburton County has been struggling to recruit physicians and nurses to the area since the pandemic. As a result, the HHHS has relied on Health Force Ontario’s Emergency Department Locum Program. Health Force Ontario is a publicly funded recruitment agency that provides emergency departments with physicians at a cost. The physicians, however, are only brought in temporarily, and since they’re not employees of the hospital, they’re able to turn down shifts. The program is also more expensive than hiring a physician full time.
Plummer said the HHHS is working to recruit more medical staff, but under current conditions, it’s not feasible to operate two emergency departments. To keep the Minden ER open, she said: “HHHS would need immediate access to a steady, ongoing roster of new physicians and in-house nursing staff. Unfortunately, given persistent global healthcare staffing shortages, there is no such solution on the horizon.”
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