Minden emergency slated for closure
The Minden hospital emergency department is closing, with emergency and in-patient services to be consolidated at Haliburton hospital, effective June 1.
Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) made the announcement April 20, saying Minden and the surrounding area will be able to access emergency services at the Haliburton site, and staff working in the Minden emergency department will be transferred to the Haliburton emergency department.
Chair of the HHHS board of directors, David O’Brien, said “this was an evidence-based decision, which was made in the best interest of our community. Today is an important day for HHHS, because it means that we will continue to be able to provide the high-quality health services that Haliburton County residents and visitors count on.”
President and CEO, Carolyn Plummer, added the move, “is really related to our health human resource crisis.” She said the shortage of nursing and medical staff has meant that the organization has needed to take “extraordinary” measures to keep both emergency departments operating, “which has required significant personal and professional sacrifices from staff.
“By bringing together HHHS’ emergency services at one site, there will be more staff available to help create a more stable and effective staffing situation overall.”
She said there would be no job losses and the service will still need to recruit approximately five to six full-time equivalent nurses.
HHHS has had to rely on agency nurses, which has contributed to an approximate $3 million deficit as of the last board meeting. Plummer said the decision isn’t about money but, “it will certainly reduce the need for agency nurses and the associated cost, but this is really about making sure that we’re making the best use of the resources that we have.”
Acting chief of staff, Dr. Norm Bottum said consolidations such as this are not new. They have occurred in Peterborough, Cobourg and Port Hope in recent times, and led to those consolidated sites being able to expand their services.
“There’s been a limit to maintaining services at both sites,” he said of Minden and Haliburton. “As medical staff, I’ve sat in on many strategic plans where we thought it would be ideal to be under one site. There’s lots of efficiencies.”
He added while the board has “gone above and beyond” to keep both Minden and Haliburton emergency departments operating, “the writings’ been on the wall.” He referenced the check-stop-go put in place in case of temporary emergency room closures and, “things have gotten worse over the last year rather than better. It’s something we anticipated would happen a lot sooner.” Dr. Bottum did not expect “shock, awe or surprise” among staff, who were being informed of the news today (April 20).
Difficult for Minden community
Plummer acknowledged the same may not be said for Minden.
“We know this is going to be a very difficult message for the Minden community. We’re very cognizant of that.
“This was a very tough decision in that regard. It certainly wasn’t made lightly. We’ve been talking about this and looking at options for quite some time but this is the decision that we needed to make in order to continue to provide health services in the County and make sure that every one in the County has access to those services and to give us the opportunity to build a really robust emergency department and hospital service and to give us the opportunity to grow and evolve in the future to meet the growing needs of our community.”
She said they needed to make sure their consolidated emergency department was attached to in-patient beds, and there are 15 of those in Haliburton. Shifting to Minden would have required ministry approval, delays, and costly renovations, she added. The Haliburton site will require a few minor alterations.
Plummer said Haliburton is also “a little more central in the County as well from an EMS response perspective and travel distance perspective.”
As for the future of the Minden site, Plummer said, “we’re going to look at lots of different opportunities for that site and what might help better meet the needs of the community.”
Dr. Bottum added, “in the long run, for the benefit of the organization, consolidating to one site and being able to optimize those services is going to be a bonus for the County for years to come. Instead of splitting money between two sites, which was politically nice, but from a medical standpoint, we’ve supported the idea of a single emergency department for 30 years.”
He also said it made sense to have a consolidated site to better recruit personnel and a primary emergency site to bolster the application for a CT scanner.
Plummer said since they have been planning for near closures for months, a lot of the legwork has been done for the transition. However, she said there would be adjustments for staffing, space, patient flow, equipment and parking, to name a few.
They are also rolling out a communications strategy that will include signage at Minden hospital and on highways, and staff on-site in Minden to redirect patients when needed.
“This decision is about maintaining the safety of our patients, the sustainability of our services and the care our patients receive, and the well-being of our staff teams,” Plummer said.
For more on this story, see next Thursday’s Highlander.