Fight to save ER in Minden, Ont. reaches Lhotse, world’s 4th highest mountain

Liliya Ianovskaia unfolds a Canadian flag with "Save Minden ER" atop Lhotse in Nepal on May, 24, 2023. Liliya Ianovskaia photo

A mountaineer took the fight to stop the emergency department closure in Minden, Ont., to new heights this week – literally – by scaling the world’s fourth-highest mountain.

On Wednesday, May 24, Canadian-Belarusian mountaineer Liliya Ianovskaia reached the summit of Lhotse in Nepal, which has a height of 8,516 metres (27,940 feet) above sea level.

Atop the mountain, Ianovskaia unfolded a Belarusian flag along with a Canadian flag bearing the words Save Minden ER and #MindenMatters — names of public campaigns in Ontario to raise awareness of the June 1 closure of the ER at the Minden hospital site and consolidation of services with the hospital in Haliburton, about 30 kilometres north.

The campaigns — which have included more than 25,000 signatures requesting a year moratorium on the ER closure and a potential legal challenge — caught Ianovskaia’s attention since she is a part-time resident of Haliburton County.

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She said it’s essential to keep the ER open since Minden is one of the busiest rural hospitals in the province, especially during the summer months with an influx of thousands of cottagers and tourists to the central Ontario area.

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“As a mountaineer, I know too well that nature can be very unpredictable,” she said. “The unexpected happens, and when it does, every minute counts when it comes to saving lives. Quick access to safe medical care is crucial in times of crisis.”

In late April the Haliburton Highlands Health Services announced the planned ER closure, citing “severe” and “ongoing” staff shortages. Top health board officials have said the staffing challenges could mean both ERs were at risk of unplanned, short-notice closures that would impact health-care in Haliburton County.

Ianovskaia says she joins in the public campaigns seeking “urgent exploration” of solutions to ensure the ER remains open to permanent and seasonal residents.

“The hospital is located minutes from a busy regional highway, and in the heart of Haliburton County, the population of which triples every summer due to cottagers and tourists who flood the area to enjoy Ontario’s nature, lakes, and hiking trails,” Ianovskaia said. “This decision (to close the ER) will put countless lives at risk and will have far-reaching consequences.”

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The provincial government — including health minister Sylvia Jones — has repeatedly said the ER closure is a decision by the health board “in the best interests of the community.”

Ianovskaia is a Guinness World Record holder as the oldest woman to summit K2 (8,611) in Kashmir, the world’s second-highest mountain, when she reached the peak on July 22, 2022, just two weeks shy of her 63rd birthday.

She and her daughter Dasha reached the summit of Mount Everest in May 2022, only the third mother-daughter duo to reach the world’s highest mountain.

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