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Haliburton Highlands Health Services president and CEO takes medical leave of absence

Haliburton Highlands Health Services president and CEO Carolyn Plummer and board chair David O'Brien present an emergency consolidation plan to Haliburton County council on May 16, 2023. Plummer is taking a leave of absence effective June 12. Screen shot/Zoom video county council

Carolyn Plummer, president and CEO of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, is taking a medical leave of absence, the health board announced Monday morning.

Health board chair David O’Brien said that in her absence, directors have appointed Veronica Nelson as HHHS‘s acting president and CEO, effective Monday. The board says Nelson will be responsible for all aspects of the roles during Plummer’s absence. Plummer has been in the roles since her appointment in 2016.

Nelson is currently vice-president and chief operating officer at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay.

“The HHHS board of directors would like to thank CEO Plummer for her hard work and dedication, particularly during the past few months, and we recognize the importance of looking after her health,” O’Brien said. “We wish her all the best as she addresses her medical issues.”

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Plummer has been in the spotlight since late April when she and the board announced the emergency department in Minden would close on June 1 and all of its services would be consolidated with the hospital in Haliburton, 30 kilometres north.

The board said the closure was needed to help address “severe, ongoing” staff shortages at both ER sites to avoid temporary closures. Plummer said it was  “no longer feasible” or “sustainable” to continue to “fight” to keep both ER rooms open and bring in resources to maintain both.

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“The pressure on our staff is absolutely tremendous — it’s not something that was sustainable,” she said in late April

The six-week notice sparked community backlash, numerous rallies and more than 25,000 signatures on petitions presented at Queen’s Park. Bob Carter, mayor of Minden Hills Township, even asked Plummer and the board to resign in the wake of the announcement, saying they “failed” in their pecuniary and moral responsibilities to residents in Haliburton County.

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Nelson has more than 30 years of healthcare experience. She previously worked at HHHS as a medical radiation technologist and has been an executive leader at RMH since 2015, including serving as interim president and CEO from March 2019 to April 2020. She is currently co-leading the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Ontario Health Team (OHT). She has been overseeing the Diagnostic Imaging and Laboratory Departments at both HHHS and RMH and will continue to do so moving forward.

“We look forward to working with Ms. Nelson and have the utmost confidence in her ability to take on the significant responsibilities associated with this position,” O’Brien said.

The Haliburton and Lindsay hospitals have had an ongoing partnership for several years, sharing services including epic clinical information system, diagnostic imaging, information and communications technology, laboratory, medical device reprocessing and pharmacy services.

“HHHS and RMH are both organizations that mean a great deal to me,” Nelson said. “I am excited to bring my skillset and experience to working with the HHHS Board of Directors and team members throughout the organization. I know how incredibly important HHHS and its services are to patients, residents, clients, and the community.”

Kelly Isfan, Ross Memorial’s president and CEO, said Nelson will provide HHHS with needed support.

“Ross Memorial Hospital and Haliburton Highlands Health Services have a longstanding, supportive relationship dedicated to providing the best care possible to our neighbouring communities,” she said.

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“The Ross couldn’t be more confident in Veronica’s ability to support HHHS in their time of need. We also want to extend our best wishes to Carolyn Plummer as she takes care of her health.”

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