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HomeNewsOntario Ombudsman Finds Haliburton County Council Violated Municipal Act When It Held...

Ontario Ombudsman Finds Haliburton County Council Violated Municipal Act When It Held Closed Meeting On Minden ED Closure

KAWARTHA LAKES-The Ontario Ombudsman issued a report on December 6th that found Haliburton County Council violated the Municipal Act when it held a private meeting on the closure of the Minden Emergency Department.

“It is extremely disappointing, as we now look back to a meeting that occurred five weeks before the June 1, 2023 closure of the Minden Emergency Department, where information that all the stakeholders of Haliburton County could have, would have and should have had access to was not made available to us.” said Richard Bradley, a concerned resident of Minden Hills.

On April 20th the HHHS announced its decision to permanently close the emergency room at the Minden Hospital on June 1, 2023. A number of residents contacted their local councillors, held rallies and signed petitions against the closure. In response to the announcement, council called a special meeting for April 27th. The county invited officials from the hospital to attend.

According to the closed session minutes and people interviewed by the ombudsman, the HHHS representatives were provided an opportunity to speak to council about the decision to close the emergency room. The Board Chair told the Ombudsman’s office that he explained the HHHS’ rationale for its decision. He shared information about staffing levels, labour relations, and bed capacity at the HHHS hospitals in the County. The HHHS representatives also provided council with a plan to ensure that patients could access emergency services at an alternative hospital following the closure according to the report.

Council members questioned the plan to accommodate patients at a second hospital located in the County according to the report and council members requested that the HHHS delay or reverse its decision. When the HHHS representatives left the meeting council continued the in camera discussion. Eventually, the discussion turned to possible legal action that the County could seek to prevent or delay the emergency room closure. A council member shared legal advice he had received from a lawyer and information about the potential costs of pursuing legal action. Council reportedly came to a consensus that it would not take legal steps at that time.

The complaints alleged that holding that meeting while in camera was contrary to the open meeting rules and the Ombudsman agreed.

Ombudsman Paul Dube’s report finds that “Council for the County of Haliburton was not permitted to discuss the decision of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services to close a local emergency room in the Township of Minden Hills while in camera on April 27, 2023 under the exceptions in the Municipal Act, 2001 for matters under another Act or information supplied in confidence by a third party.”

“The decision and the plan, that was eventually presented publicly 3 weeks later, to consolidate all the Haliburton County Emergency Medical Services into the Haliburton site was then and still is grossly insufficient and highly deficient in both form and substance and as we have now seen borne out in the implementation.  This remains a work-in-progress, is reckless and poses an immediate risk to the safety and well-being of residents and visitors across the entire region.’ in my opinion said Bradley.

The report adds that a portion of the discussion did fit within the exception for advice subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Bradley says he now questions if the community could have done something different to save the Minden ER.  

“How does this lack of transparency, by our elected County Council, even with the stated best of intentions(?), and the self-appointed Board of H.H.H.S. and CEO, the organization that we have entrusted the management and administration of our public funded healthcare and our lives to, have a compounded effect on the community’s ability to respond and hold both the Council and H.H.H.S. Board accountable?” asks Bradley

“I would like to remind the County that, under the Municipal Act, it is the County’s responsibility to adhere to the open meeting rules.” said Dube.  “The decision to close a meeting to the public rests with council. I appreciate that the hope of council was that they would receive confidential information during the closed session. However, the County did not take steps to verify that this would be this case, and council closed the meeting on the basis of a hope or expectation that proved to be incorrect.”

 

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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