An emergency room in Minden, Ont., that residents had hoped to save was shuttered at midnight and the MPP who represents the area is now calling for an urgent care clinic there instead.
On Thursday, the large blue “H” was covered by plywood and the word “emergency” was removed from the sign on the hospital at the site, approximately 195 kilometres north of Toronto.
Laurie Scott, Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, said in a series of tweets that she spent weeks talking to all parties involved and questioning what could have been done to avoid the closure.
Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS), a local health board, made the decision to close the Minden ER on June 1.
“In the end, it does not come down to a funding issue — rather, it is a staffing issue — and the board has the power to proceed,” Scott said. The board has said the closure was necessary due to a nursing and medical staffing shortage.
A resident, however, says Scott should have spoken out sooner.
“Unfortunately, it’s a little bit too late,” Patrick Porzuczek, one of the organizers of the fight to keep the emergency room open, told CBC News on Thursday.
“As you can see, the blue H is down. She really let down all her constituents and everybody that was trying to voice their opinion on how we needed to save this. There was something that the government could have done to help step in,” he said.
“All we were asking for was a pause.”
The HHHS has now transferred all emergency and in-patient services from Minden to its Haliburton site, roughly 25 kilometres away.
Health board defends closure
Carolyn Plummer, president of HHHS, said in a statement on the board’s website, “The pressure to keep two emergency departments open, on top of the personal and professional sacrifices it has demanded, has been unbelievable. We have to support our staff, so they can keep protecting and caring for our patients.”
HHHS says the Minden site now provides ambulatory clinics, specifically physiotherapy, bone densitometry, and outpatient x-ray by appointment. It also has a 62-bed long-term care facility called Hyland Crest and program offices for supportive housing and diabetes education.
The closure comes after residents presented the province with a petition containing thousands of signatures of people opposed to the move, and business people travelled to Queen’s Park to make the case that the closure is bad for business.
One business owner has said the closure would hurt the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in the riding.
Hours before the closure, residents held a candlelight vigil for the emergency room. Porzuczek said about 200 candles lined both sides of the driveway leading to the site, in honour of the doctors and nurses still working there.
“We wanted to show support, respect, solidarity for them and all of their hard work,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare held a rally to protest the closure.
Porzuczek, standing in front of the hospital sign, said funding for an urgent care centre is a good idea. “It’s something,” he said.
Decision ‘not anything anyone wanted,’ MPP says
In a Twitter thread that began early Thursday, Scott said the “necessary funding” is in place to meet staffing requirements at the Haliburton site’s emergency room.
As for Minden, the decision was “not anything anyone wanted nor expected” and residents have “struggled” with the decision, she said.
“It has been frustrating to say the least, and the way things have been prepared and communicated are lacking in many ways. Many people have reached out to me to share their fears and concerns and I completely understand and wholeheartedly sympathize,” Scott said.
“Having no plan in place for the Minden ER location is unacceptable and I have been in action pursuing a solution.”
Scott said she has been working with Kawartha North Family Health Team to pursue an application through the Ontario’s MInistry of Health for funding to set up an urgent care clinic at the hospital site.
“I will be pressing forward with full support for that application, and I ensure you I will do everything I can to drive the message forward about the urgency to have access to local healthcare for people in this riding, regardless of the challenges we face in rural areas.”
In an interview, Scott told CBC News that she spoke to hospital leadership, saying: “If you want to delay or change your mind, we will be there to support you.”
‘Where has that MPP been?’ NDP leader asks
Members of Ontario opposition parties expressed frustration with Scott on Thursday.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles agreed with Porzuczek, saying Scott’s comments were “too little too late” and that she would not meet with her constituents when they came to Queen’s Park.
“Those people, as of today, they can’t get to an emergency room in their community,” Stiles said.
“Where was she? Where has that MPP been?”
John Fraser, interim leader for the Ontario Liberals, said Scott should be asking Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones to intervene in the situation.
“Unless the urgent care clinic is opening today, it’s pretty hollow, because the ER is closing today.”