Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) CEO Carolyn Plummer said despite the Minden physician group publicly saying it will not staff the new consolidated emergency room in Haliburton, HHHS is “making fantastic progress” towards ensuring doctor coverage come June 1.
However, in a May 9 interview with The Highlander, Plummer said she could not share details as HHHS is still working on a final staffing plan.
She told the paper this week, “the physician schedule is close to being completed. We’re continuing to work with our management team, with Ontario Health, and with Health Force Ontario to make sure we can confirm things before we’re able to share them publicly.”
Her comments came after Dr. Dennis Fiddler told The Highlander his Minden team will not be going to the consolidated Haliburton ER site.
He said during 18 months of talks about staffing shortages and temporary ER closures, they told HHHS they could not support a full closure of one of the EDs.
“The Minden ED physicians knew it would be the end of our ability to provide the highest standard of care [for patients].”
HHHS ‘very, very close’ to finalizing staffing model for Haliburton site
Dr. Fiddler went on to say, “over the years, increasing ED volumes have made these shifts more challenging, however a 24-hour shift [available in Minden] was still feasible to do and provided a balance that made the long drive from our home bases acceptable. We told the HHHS executive and board in February 2022 we could not provide physician coverage if one of the EDs were going to close, and it is still the case today.”
Plummer said the group had made it clear that if the Haliburton emerge were to temporarily close as a result of a physician shortage, the Minden emerge would also have to close at the same time because they wouldn’t be able to provide coverage.
“They indicated it wouldn’t be safe … for them to provide medical coverage for the whole community with that 24-hour shift coverage model …” She added that meant both emergency departments would have had to be closed at the same time, “and I don’t know that people have really realized that before.”
Pressed as to how they will staff the consolidated site, Plummer said, “we are certainly very grateful for the ongoing support that we’re getting from Ontario Health and from the Health Force Ontario Emergency Department locum program, and we’re continuing to work with them to establish a model going forward. We’re very, very close to having a plan. It does take time to work these things through.”
Pressed for details, such as the number of doctors signed up, Plummer said, “I can’t share the details quite yet. I should be able to do that very, very soon.” Asked how soon “very, very soon” was since the new model goes online in three weeks, she said “days. I would love to be able to tell you more. At this point I just can’t. I can tell you that we have made very good progress and that we are very, very close to having a plan finalized, but I can’t give you the details of that quite yet.”
Asked why not, she said she cannot discuss contractual arrangements involving the Ministry of Health and the Ontario Medical Association. “But we are getting very close to being able to share what the staffing model is going to look like.”
As for the nursing schedule, Plummer said, “I do believe that’s been worked out.”
Plummer said when it comes to work at the Haliburton site, “there’s regular meetings happening and there is work being done to some of our spaces now to prepare for this.”
She reiterated that with planning for possible temporary closures the past 18 months, they’ve had different options mapped out to deal with increased volumes at the single site and things such as the need for additional parking.
“Work has already started to modify the space.”
Plummer shared some information on the layout of the new emergency department. For example, she said they are working on a space for people who have traditionally come in who do not have a local family physician for things that are not deemed an immediate emergency. She said it will allow them to be “fast-tracked,” with a separate waiting room for emergency patients.
She added they have made room for two additional stretcher spaces from a pre-existing storage room, and another space for minor traumas.
Plummer said they are focused on the transition plan for June 1 at Haliburton but in the background are still thinking about what could potentially be done at the Minden site. She had no further details.
She also addressed air ambulance coverage and the helipad in Minden. She said they will still be calling for ORNGE to take patients out of the County to other hospitals. She said they would also continue to maintain the Minden helipad “at least for now.”
She said it may be used as a rendezvous point, but that County helipads are sometimes used by OPP and the military.
Plummer repeated the HHHS rationale that, “this was an operational decision. If this was a decision that we thought we didn’t need to make, or we thought could be delayed, we would have delayed it. We couldn’t. It just wasn’t feasible. It’s not feasible for us to continue with two emergency departments. This is not something we wanted to do. It’s not a decision that was made lightly by any means. We needed to make sure we were making the right decision to preserve health services in this community.”
She said she and HHHS board chair David O’Brien live in the County and the decision affects them, and their families, too.
O’Brien added, “if we continue to operate both sites, and one had to close due to staffing shortages, both would close because there’s not enough doctors a