Ontario health minister defends HHHS board’s decision to close Minden ER

The emergency department in Minden, Ont., is scheduled to close June 1, 2023. Tricia Mason/Global News Peterborough

Ontario’s health minister says a decision to permanently close the emergency department in Minden was made at the local level, not provincial.

During Wednesday’s question period at Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Chris Glover (Spadina-Fort York) raised concerns about last week’s announcement by the Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) to close the ER site in Minden as of June 1. All services will be relocated 30 kilometres northeast to the hospital in Haliburton.

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The HHHS board has stated staffing challenges prompted the closure. The decision has led to community outcry, including claims by Minden Hills Township council members that no prior notification was given about plans to close the ER site. On Tuesday hundreds gathered at the community centre to express their concerns.

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Glover relayed a story of a couple involved a wintertime crash who received care at the Minden site. Glover claimed they might not have survived if they required an additional 45 minute drive to Haliburton. He asked if the provincial government would stop the closure.

In an email to Global News Peterborough, the hospital noted winter conditions may have lengthened the drive time which is normally 25 minutes.

Deputy Premier and Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones says she has been “assured” that the HHHS board has approached the closure decision “with the best interests of the community.”

“This is a decision made by the hospital with the support of the hospital board,” said Jones.

“It is independent of any decision that we make at the ministry level.”

The hospital noted winter conditions may have lengthened the drive time

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Glover in a followup question stated staffing shortages can be addressed by ending promotion of private-for-profit clinics and repealing Bill 124 — wage suppression legislation that holds public sector salary increases at one per cent per year for three-year contracts. The Ford government is currently appealing a ruling from an Ontario judge that deemed Bill 124 unconstitutional.

Glover questioned whether the Minden ER closure is another step in attempting to privatize Ontario’s healthcare system.

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“Will this government admit that the Minden emergency room and the people of Minden are the victims of its quest to create a crisis and privatize public healthcare in Ontario?”

Jones quickly rebutted “absolutely not.” She said the health board’s budget has increased by “over” 11 per cent since 2018 and noted the board consists of volunteers and community members who know the area and services.

“To the member opposite to suggest he knows better than the volunteer-based board, than the CEO, than the individuals who work in that facility, is patently false,” Jones said.

Jones says Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes Brock MPP Laurie Scott has been “in close contact” with the board and CEO throughout the “entire process. And to remind the member this is a local decision that they have made in the best interest to serve their community in the long-term.”

Ontario Nurses' Association

The Ontario Nurses’ Association on Tuesday stated the closure of the Minden ER is a “preview” of additional permanent ER closures in the province.

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“This is yet another example of the consequences of failing to fix the strain our hospital system is experiencing,” said ONA interim president Bernadette (Bernie) Robinson. “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.

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Robinson says the public needs to join the call for hospital CEOs to support a better contract for those on the front lines.

“Efforts should certainly begin with a better hospital-sector contract for our registered nurses (RNs) and health-care professionals,” said Robinson. “After years of wage suppression and disrespect, tangible evidence is needed that their work-lives will improve in order to retain them, and bring back RNs who left the system over the past three years.”

The ONA represents 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals as well as 18,000 nursing student affiliates.

Click to play video: 'Minden emergency department planned closure leads to community outcry'
Minden emergency department planned closure leads to community outcry

“A respectful, negotiated contract was not reached for the 60,000 hospital nurses and health-care professionals who provide care to Ontarians, including in Minden,” Robinson said. “The contract has now gone to arbitration, with a decision to be reached this summer. It’s clear that disrespecting our members has a direct impact on Ontarians’ access to health care. Our nurses have been there for their patients, and we hope the public will be there to support them.”

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In a recent poll, 60 per cent of Ontario registered practical nurses are either considering or partly considering leaving the profession.

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