Minden Hills politicians and residents are fighting a decision by Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) to close the emergency department at the Minden hospital.

HHHS announced April 20 it is shuttering the Minden emergency and consolidating services at the Haliburton site effective June 1.

Minden Hills mayor Bob Carter and deputy mayor Lisa Schell have publicly expressed their outrage at the move and the town has rallied with a Save Minden Ontario Emergency Room Facebook group, a GoFundMe, and a petition.

In an interview with The Highlander, Carter said, “Every one of us knows people in our community that are walking this earth today because of the availability of that Minden emerge and the dedicated staff that work there.”

Carter said the closure would greatly impact his constituents. “We have the person in Miner’s Bay who’s in a real tough spot. They have to start going off in different directions.” It’s been suggested some patients living in the south and west of Minden Hills may have to be taken to hospitals outside of the County.

There will be a number of repercussions, the mayor added.

He said residents of Hyland Crest long-term care home, who used to be wheeled down the hall to the emergency department when they needed attention, will now have to be taken by ambulance to Haliburton. He fears they will face long wait times.

As a County councillor, since the County is responsible for land ambulances, he also decried that EMS was only informed April 20, despite being in the midst of developing a strategic plan for the future of the service.

County of Haliburton CAO Mike Rutter said EMS chief Tim Waite met with his management staff April 20 to discuss how the changes may impact them. “I expect those discussions will extend to front line staff over the next few days.”

Carter doesn’t like the timing, either.

“This is just such a poorly-planned decision. Here we are with six weeks notice… and we’re going to introduce it when? Just at the start of the time when our population triples.”

He noted Minden Hills is also the fastest growing township in the County, with the 2021 Census pegging growth at 7.7 per cent since 2016. He said he personally would not move to Minden Hills if he knew it no longer had an ER.

He added Minden Hills council is not going to take the decision lying down.

“We are going to stand with the community to fight this. I termed it as ill advised, ill timed and ill planned and the problem is all those ills and there’s no emergency room to go to. They may think it’s a done deal and so on … and we don’t know all of our options … but we’re not going to let this stand. We certainly cannot let an unelected group of people (HHHS management and the hospital board) make such huge decisions that affect all of our lives.

Schell was equally critical. She took to Facebook to say, “the decision by the HHHS board and CEO to close Minden Emerg as of June 1, is very short-sighted and difficult to understand. Minden is listed as one of the fastest growing communities in the country. This will cause health and economic harm and is absolutely shameful. The community has had zero opportunity to engage with the board before this decision was made. I am speechless.”

She further updated her post to add that in a news article published in 2022, Haliburton emergency department saw 9,766 visits, while Minden’s emergency department saw 12,768.

Warden: existing model unsustainable

County warden Liz Danielsen acknowledged the HHHS decision is difficult, but ultimately believes it is the right thing for the County’s long-term health care needs.

Danielsen said while it has “caused waves of anger and anxiety across the County… unfortunately, the possibility of temporary closures has been looming over us all for the past year, and we are fortunate that we have managed to continue to keep both facilities open so far.

“I believe that the financial challenges that HHHS has been facing, along with the inability to maintain adequate staff in place, has finally proven that the existing model can no longer be sustained.”

The warden did say, however, that, “enhanced communications on a number of levels would have been beneficial.”

But, “we must face this new challenge head on. County council will continue to maintain close contact with HHHS in efforts to mitigate the impact on our community as well as monitor closely just how seriously this decision will impact the delivery of emergency services overall.”