HHHS acting CEO ‘here to change the culture’

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Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) acting president and CEO, Veronica Nelson, made some concessions during a town hall meeting in Minden June 29, in which she struggled with her emotions following intense questioning by the public.

She reiterated HHHS’ position it consolidated ED services in Haliburton due to a lack of staffing, particularly nurses, and it chose Haliburton because it had 15 in-patient beds.

Nelson also said the Minden Hospital remains open and offers long-term care, diagnostics such as x-rays, and bone densitometry, outpatient programs, such as an adult day program, social recreation, exercises for seniors, nursing foot care, physiotherapy, diabetes education, telemedicine, GAIN, and a mental health outreach program. She added they were looking to partner on other possibilities for the hospital site.

“It’s open for business. Our hospital in Minden is still very busy.” She noted the helipad is remaining open for emergencies as well.

The Kawartha North Family Health Team (KNFHT) urgent care clinic opened June 30 in the former ED site. It will operate weekends until it can be fully staffed seven days a week, she said.

Nelson was asked about “ballooning wait times” at the Haliburton ED since consolidation June 1. She presented data indicating that between June 1-26, wait times to first assessments by a doctor, by all patients, averaged 0.9 hours. She said the length of stay in the ED for low-urgency patients averaged 2.1 hours, with 91 per cent finished within four hours.

For high urgency, she said average stays were 4.3 hours, with 86 per cent finished within eight hours.

She noted most rural hospitals are not mandated to report their wait times. She further said non-life-threatening patients, using the example of a person with a fish hook in their finger, would hopefully go to the Minden urgent care clinic and not the Haliburton ER.

Nelson challenged

Rev. Joan Cavanaugh challenged the data.

“That’s not what I’m hearing on the phone when people are calling me from the waiting room. ‘Rev. Joan, can you come? I’ve been here seven-and-a-half hours, eight hours, nine hours, 13.’ Some of them go home. These people aren’t calling me and telling me fibs. They’re there but your stats are saying three hours and four hour waits. How is that possible, such a difference in what people are saying and the actuality of what’s happening?”

Nelson said the stats were an average and it can sometimes take longer when someone presents with a serious trauma, or a heart attack, for instance, and is seen first. “We try our best.”

Another woman said she spent 16 hours in the Haliburton ED on June 20 with a appendicitis. Eventually, she called her daughter to drive her to Bracebridge for surgery. “We were assured Haliburton Hospital would be prepared for us. I could have died on the way. I could have died in emerge.”

Former HHHS registered nurse, Judy Toye, said she had the staffing numbers for Minden prior to closure, “and actually there was enough nursing staff to get through the summer. It was going to be a squeeze but there was enough.” She added since the Minden ED closure, there have been many illnesses, stress leaves, sick calls, and people not coming back from maternity leave, “which has left you extremely short now.”

She added she moved to Extendicare and they have many former HHHS nurses there. “That speaks to how (HHHS) staff have been treated and the retention of staff. Any answer as to how that is going to improve?” she asked Nelson.

The acting CEO said she could not speak to what had happened prior to arrival, “but I can say that I am here to change the culture and to try to bring those nurses back.”

Asked how she would do that, she again talked about improving the culture as well as the services provided and making sure staff get the education and support they need. She said they are also getting back to applicants, a previous criticism.

She noted they are in the process of hiring a new chief nursing executive and a human resources manager. She added they are doing a compensation review to make sure they are competitive. She said they will emphasize recruitment and retention as they are currently short 12 nurses. She wants to reduce nursing agency staff “to a bare minimum” by Sept. 30 but said they need to get staff to do that.

Jeff Nichols wanted to know why HHHS board chair David O’Brien was not in attendance. “Absolutely zero accountability from this person and it’s a complete joke that he appears to not be here.” Nelson said O’Brien had a medical appointment.

Richard Bradley told Nelson he understood that she was a “fixer. I challenge you to fix what is broken. You need to fix this. You need to get your staffing up to a level that is sustainable for two emerges. Bring back our doctors, bring back our nurses, bring back our services and put the H back in front of that building.

“That’s what your job is and that is what this community, and over 25,000 people clearly stated on a petition. We will not accept 12 hours a week over there (the urgent care clinic) as any substitute.”

Next town hall: Haliburton Legion July 25 at 5 p.m.