Published May 10, 2023

Central Ontario residents ask minister to impose moratorium in Minden ER closure

The hospital says a shortage of nursing and medical staff is behind its decision

By Allison Jones in Toronto

Residents in and around the central Ontario community of Minden are calling on the health minister to step in and impose a one-year moratorium on the planned closure of an emergency department.

Haliburton Highlands Health Services announced recently 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.

Richard Bradley was among a group of area residents who travelled to the legislature Wednesday after gathering more than 17,000 signatures – and counting – on a petition calling for the moratorium.

Bradley worries the closure will cost lives.

"Who is going to be the first person, whether it's a child with asthma, or somebody who has an allergic reaction?" he said at a press conference while choking up. "It's very emotional to the entire town."

Norman Bess, 82, is a seasonal resident of Minden and said he believes the ER staff there saved his life when he had a heart attack in September 2017.

"If it hadn't been for this gentleman and that hospital, I wouldn't – I would not be here today," he said. 

"So they're taking away something that people need. People move there because they've had a hospital and now they're taking it away. And there's no damn reason why they're taking it away."

In response to questions Wednesday from the NDP asking if she would reverse or pause the closure, Health Minister Sylvia Jones chided the New Democrats for not supporting local health-care decision making.

"So often in this chamber we talk about the importance and value of community leadership, of ensuring the community has a voice and now the member opposite is suggesting that we need to override community hospital leadership decisions," Jones said.

"It is very unfortunate that they have not supported the local decision made by hospital leadership."

The hospital said a shortage of nursing and medical staff is behind its decision.

"It has taken extraordinary measures over the past 18 months to keep both of HHHS’ emergency departments open, including many personal and professional sacrifices by our staff," the hospital wrote in a statement. 

"There were more than 20 official ‘close calls’ in 2022, which would have required short-notice temporary closures, but there were also many more unofficial close calls involving nursing staff shortages at both sites."

Some of those close calls nearly saw both ERs close at the same time, the hospital said.

"The organization fought as hard and as long as it could to keep both emergency departments open, but with no long-term solutions in sight, it couldn’t go on any longer," the statement said.

"A temporary closure would not address the broader staffing crisis HHHS is experiencing, and it would not give staff or the community the certainty they need when it comes to delivering and receiving emergency care."

NDP health critic France Gelinas said this falls squarely within the minister's responsibility. 

"You cannot take away the emergency department of a rural hospital without having a transition plan agreed upon by the minister of health," she said. 

"If the minister of health took two minutes to listen, she will see that 17,000 people have signed a petition that says give us a one-year moratorium."

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.

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