MPP Laurie Scott has endorsed HHHS’ decision to consolidate services at Haliburton hospital.

The Highlander asked Scott about a $3 million HHHS deficit, created in part by delayed transfer payments; the Ford government not allowing nurses’ salaries to increase by more than one per cent a year over three years; and it allowing agency nursing in the province.

Scott said when it comes to transfer payments, the process has not changed. She said the province has tried to make it faster but it is similar with all transfers from government to agencies. “It takes a little bit to do the catch up.”

She further said the Ontario government is in the midst of negotiations with Ontario nurses “so, that’s evolving.”

As to agency nursing, she did not directly answer the question.

Rather, she said, “I think what they did in Haliburton was look at the fact of how many nurses and doctors they have and the reality of ‘we’re more stable in one site, that we can provide more nursing care. There’s more nurses if we pool it together.’ I think you’ll see that we’ll have a stronger emerge and we’re going to have to develop Haliburton a little bit more.”

She mentioned the ask for a CT scanner is now before the Ministry of Health.

Scott said there is a global staffing crisis and the province is taking action, such as investments to expand family health teams, increased hospital beds, more than 12,000 nurses being registered this year alone, and last fall more than 109,000 students entering the nursing field, but that it will take time.

“You can’t, when you’re dealing with this, say ‘stop agencies’,” she said. “Other areas have different needs. Lindsay doesn’t necessarily use agency but they have more flexibility. They have more staff to pull from.”

Pressed by The Highlander that if they paid public sector nurses more, they might not need agency nurses, Scott said, “there’s two emergency rooms in Haliburton County. And I know the population fluctuates in the summer time. But that’s lots of access to emergencies.”

She was further adamant HHHS’ decision was not about funding.

“The hospital will stabilize because they’ll be able to hire more. There’s lots of positive things on the horizon.”

Scott added with a “great” community paramedicine program and pharmacists treating more common health care conditions, it deflects the need for more emergency department visits. She is also looking forward to hearing HHHS’ ideas for the Minden site once the emergency department closes.

Agency nursing has been around for years, but boomed during COVID. Liberal MPP Adil Shamji is pushing for a Private Members Bill, the Temporary Nursing Agency Licensing and Regulation Act, to include mandatory licensing for temporary nursing agencies, a ban on “unconscionable pricing” and restrictions on how they can recruit.

During Question Period at Queen’s Park April 26, health minister Sylvia Jones was asked about the Minden ER closure. She said it was a hospital board decision “in the best interests of the community.” She added it was independent of ministry decision-making.