With less than two weeks to go before the planned closure of an emergency department in the central Ontario community of Minden, residents opposing the move are hoping to take their battle to court.
Haliburton Highlands Health Services announced in April that the ER at its Minden location would close as of June 1 and all emergency services would be transferred to its Haliburton site, about 25 kilometres away.
That has enraged some local residents, who have launched a campaign called “Save Minden ER.” On Friday, the group announced a plan to raise $100,000 in order to fund a legal challenge seeking an injunction and judicial review of the consolidation plan before it moves ahead.
“If we don’t get this injunction in place and that blue H comes down from the emergency department, we’ll never see another emergency department in the area,” said campaign spokesman Patrick Porzuczek, just prior to a Sunday afternoon rally organized by the group.
“The whole catchment of Minden will have no hospital in the area for any reason to deal with heart attacks, seizures, strokes, injury, sickness. They will have to be transported … out of the community to receive emergency services.”
Porzuczek said the group raised $50,000 — or half its ultimate goal — in the first two days of the campaign. That swift response, he said, demonstrates “the urgency that this community has to fight this closure.”
“Everybody is well aware with the way it’s set up that somebody is going to die,” he said.
“There’s been no public consultation. Access to community care for emergencies is basically removed. A one-way cab fare from Minden to Haliburton is $110. We also have one of the highest rates of poverty in the area where a lot of people that are here are on social allowances that can’t afford to take that taxi cab ride.”
The office of Health Minister Sylvia Jones issued a statement saying the consolidation of the two emergency departments would “provide more timely access to care.” Spokeswoman Alexandra Adamo noted the move “is not a closure.”
“This decision was made by Haliburton Highlands Health Services board and leadership as they are responsible for daily operational decisions,” Adamo said in a statement.
“The consolidation will ensure patients are receiving emergency care in the location that is best equipped to provide urgent acute care as the Minden site was used primarily to stabilize patients before being dispatched to larger centres and did not have any inpatient beds. The Minden site will remain open for some services and will continue to serve the community.”
HHHS president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said in a statement that a nursing and medical staff shortage is behind the board’s decision. She said without consolidation, both emergency departments would have faced temporary closures throughout the summer, sometimes with as little as two hours’ notice.
“HHHS fought for as long and as hard as it could to keep both the Haliburton and Minden Emergency Departments open, but with no long-term solutions to the severe and persistent staffing shortages we have been experiencing for the past 18 months, we couldn’t go on any longer,” Plummer said.
“It would have been almost impossible to properly communicate such short-notice closures to the community, especially to those who would be visiting for a short period of time. This is not a decision that was made lightly, and it was not one that anyone at the organization wanted to have to make.”
Asked during an unrelated press conference whether his government would try to keep the Minden ER from closing, Premier Doug Ford said Friday it’s important to highlight that the Minden hospital is going to remain open.
“We’re working with the hospitals,” Ford said. “They’re the ones that hire nurses within that community, but we always believe in giving the best service we can when it comes to health care right across the province.”
Porzuczek said the premier’s comments skirted the issue.
“What they’re calling a hospital is basically care for support for patients, but not for support in any emergency,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2023.
Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press