KAWARTHA LAKES-Kawartha 411 News has learned that none of the physicians working out of the Minden Emergency Department site of Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS)has formally agreed to work in Haliburton.
“None of the physicians working at either the Minden or Haliburton sites are employees of HHHS. They provide services to the organization under a tripartite contract between themselves, HHHS, and the Ministry. As noted, discussions are on-going with physicians about the move to the Haliburton site.” Carolyn Plummer, President and CEO HHHS, told Kawartha 411 news when asked how many physicians had signed contracts to continue working out of the Haliburton location.
On April 20th HHHS announced it would be permanently closing the Minden ER as of June 1 and in a press release dated April 20th stated “staff working in the Minden Emergency Department will be transferred to the Haliburton Emergency Department”.
Plummer told Minden County Council on Thursday there were 20 times over the past year that HHHS didn’t have enough staff to keep the ER open. She later admitted each time it was the Haliburton location that was short-staffed.
“The 20 official times that HHHS nearly had short-notice, temporary closures that required Ministry notification were related to physician shortages at the Haliburton site.” Plummer told Kawartha 411 News. “However, the Minden site is now also facing physician shortages. What is not included in those 20 instances are the number of times there have nearly been closures because of nursing sick calls and shortages, which have been occurring at both sites, sometimes simultaneously. There have been far more of these instances, sometimes on a weekly basis.”
Officials insist a severe staffing crisis is behind the closure. We asked what specifically the hospital executive had done to try to recruit staff and for specific examples with dates.
“HHHS has been working hard for years to recruit and retain enough physicians and nursing staff to support our operations. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic worsened global staffing shortages, rural areas like ours struggled to attract and retain physicians.
Over the past 18 months, HHHS has:
- Participated in multiple local, regional, and provincial in-person and virtual career fairs
- Posted our job and career opportunities far and wide
- Accessed provincial programs to fund the recruitment of internationally-educated nurses and nursing students, though with limited success as many prefer to work in urban centres or are unable to find temporary and affordable housing locally
- Created a dedicated recruiter position to work on recruitment activities
- Collaborated with the Haliburton County Physician Recruitment Coordinator to support their efforts
- Communicated our staffing challenges with Ontario Health and worked with them to identify additional recruitment strategies that could be helpful for rural communities as a whole
- Reached out to the community in the Spring of 2022 for their ideas on this topic, through a Community Recruitment and Retention Survey
- Focused on retention by supporting education opportunities for current staff, expanding scopes of practice, upgrading and expanding technology, engaging with staff to improve practices, created a Professional Practice Lead/Educator role to support the onboarding of new staff and professional development of our current team, and supported the work of the Staff Health and Wellness Committee and their efforts to address stress, burnout, and well-being
HHHS has also been in close contact with Ontario Health East, the Ministry of Health, and HealthForceOntario about our staffing and recruitment needs.” explained Plummer.
Thousands of residents have signed a petition asking for a moratorium of the decision for a period of at least one year. The petition was presented to the Ontario legislature on Thursday by organizer Patrick Porzuczek.
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones says she has been assured the decision was what’s best for the community.
“This is a decision made by the hospital with the support of the hospital board,” said Jones.
Jones went on to say our MPP Laurie Scott has been in “close contact’ with hospital officials throughout the decision to close.
Bob Carter, the Mayor of Minden Hills said council was blindsided by the decision calling it “ill-advised, ill-timed and ill-planned.” Hospital officials say they had discussed the staffing shortages with elected officials many times.
Many residents question why the Haliburton site was chosen to close. Plummer says the reason the consolidation is happening at the Haliburton site is because Haliburton has 15 in-patient beds while Minden’s inpatient beds were closed in the 1980’s.
“HHHS cannot separate those beds from an Emergency Department, because it would leave the unit without physician coverage in the case of a medical emergency like a cardiac arrest. The Minden site is not currently suitable for in-patient beds.”
The Minden site could only fit 6-10 inpatient beds and only after millions in renovation costs to bring them up to today’s standards.
The Minden ER is still on schedule to close on June 1.