Patrick Porzuczek hopes the public gallery at the Ontario legislature is awash in yellow as he and residents return to Queen’s Park this Wednesday in another effort to save the emergency department at the hospital in Minden.
As of early Monday afternoon, the Minden resident said “over 100” area residents are expected to don plain yellow T-shirts at Queen’s Park in Toronto — the colour matching “Minden Matter” signs distributed throughout Haliburton County since the Haliburton Highlands Health Services announced on April 20 plans to close the Minden ER on June 1.
The health board cites ongoing “severe” staffing shortages as the main reason to consolidate all services, including two trauma beds, at the hospital in Haliburton, about 30 kilometres northeast.
“We’re packing Queen’s Park; we want to pack that house,” Porzuczek told Global News Peterborough.
“We’re hoping it’s a sea of yellow on the front grounds too for those who can’t make it inside.”
Porzuczek said he and his daughter Kinsley, who had an irregular heartbeat discovered by staff at the Minden ER this spring, will be in a private member’s box directly across from the Progressive Conservative government. He said he hopes Premier Doug Ford, deputy premier and health minister Sylvia Jones and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes Broke MPP Laurie Scott are present and make an effort to intervene in the board’s decision.
“They can see my daughter from 20 feet away and see why I’m fighting,” said the former Minden firefighter.
During multiple Question Period sessions in late April, Jones said the closure was a health board decision based on the “best interests of the community.” Scott also repeated that message in several releases.
Since the April 20 announcement, Porzuczek and others have spearheaded a public awareness campaign, which has included a Facebook group with more than 4,400+ members, an online petition with more than 9,200 signatures, and rallies, including one on Saturday with more than 450 people in attendance at the Minden fairgrounds.
“It was a good turnout but we didn’t have the younger generations, people with young children,” he said. “We need everyone to support this. People from the GTA who travel to Haliburton County and the Highlands don’t know — they need to know. We need the message out there and we need it to be clear.”
Wednesday’s Queen’s Park visit will be Porzuckek’s second after presenting an initial petition with 3,300 signatures on April 27, which was read into the record by NDP MPPs and mentioned during several Question Period sessions. He says another petition will be presented Wednesday.
“Right now people are mad, they’re scared,” he said. “We now have a mental health crisis on our hands. All the people who live near the hospital — many who don’t drive — use it as their lifeline.”
One concern is the timing of the announcement at the start of the summer months. Minden Hills Township estimates its population of 7,000 nearly triples during the summer months with an influx of tourists and cottagers. As a result, the township council has asked the health board to delay the ER closure at least until the fall.
However, health board president CEO and president Carolyn Plummer and board chair David O’Brien have said multiple times that if the closure decision wasn’t made now, both Minden and Haliburton sites could face emergency, last-minute closures due to staffing levels this summer.
During an April 27 council meeting, Plummer said in 2022 the Haliburton site had over 20 official “close calls” where the Ministry of Health was notified of a possible temporary closure of an ER and “countless” unofficial incidents, most involving nursing sick calls.
“It really was an operational decision that had to be made,” she said.
The township council has also claimed it wasn’t notified of any possible closure and was taken off-guard by the announcement.
Porzuckek said the Minden site regularly sees patients from the neighbouring City of Kawartha Lakes who try to avoid wait times at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay.
Ross Memorial says it expects more annual visits to its emergency department if the Minden ER closes.
“Planning is well underway to meet any increased demand on our services,” said Ryan Young, RMH’s communications and public affairs officer.
City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Ron Elmslie says council also supports a delay in the ER closure.
“We regret the need to close the Minden Hospital ER and potential impacts to the residents that access health care at that site,” he said. “We support any additional time to make the necessary adjustments to address the impacts on emergency services processes.”
HHHS on Friday posted a “frequently asked questions” section on its website about the Minden ER closure.
Porzuczek said he had just undergone knee surgery when he learned of the closure but he won’t let his recovery slow down the fight. He said anyone wanting to take part in Wednesday’s rally at Queen’s Park should arrive by 9 a.m.
“I was literally waking up in surgery when it was announced and starting mobilizing right away,” he said. “It’s a lot of stress on me but I’m still fighting the fight.”