County taxpayers are giving the Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) and its foundation $1 million towards a CT scanner and CT mammography unit.

The donation is conditional, however, on County council having representation on the HHHS board.

Council opted in favour of giving the money, with coun. Bob Carter against in a recorded vote.

Coun. Lisa Schell expressed concern before the vote, saying there had been no public discussion or input into the taxpayer funding.

“While there’s no doubt having a CT scanner in the County would be beneficial, I still struggle to believe we will find the staff to operate it,” she said. “While it might attract some emergency doctors, I would like to remind the community, and everybody in this room, we had a fully-staffed emergency department (in Minden) that HHHS closed, throwing away emergency doctors who’d been faithfully staffing the ED for decades. And now they’re asking for $1 million for a CT scanner to attract emergency doctors.”

Schell said she also struggled with the fact County council has no HHHS board representation, “and little to no say on how health services are delivered to our constituents, even though we provide a significant amount of money.”

However, coun. Murray Fearrey said past councils had given money to Minden and Haliburton hospitals in a similar fashion, and suggested the funding formula was “almost painless.”

Conditional on board seats

At a Nov. 8 meeting, CAO Mike Rutter suggested the money be paid in two equal installments, in January 2024 and January 2025 – including $200,000 in the 2024-2028 operating budgets. He also recommended $300,000 from reserves in 2024 and 2025.

Fearrey said, “if we can’t find $200K in a multi-million budget then I think we’re missing something here.” He said he had similar concerns about staffing, but that’s not the County’s mandate. He added it’s about patient care, with the ability to get a quick diagnosis and fly somebody to Toronto if needed, versus having first to be taken by ambulance to an out-of-town hospital. He said Dysart taxpayers are likely funding 40 per cent due to their population size “but I’m all in. I think it’s very important.”

Coun. Cec Ryall was in favour because it will lessen the impact on the County’s ambulance service, which is taking staff and ambulances out of the County 2,000 hours a year. But he felt the board needed to be more accountable.

Carter insisted the ask should be referred to County budget talks. “Bad planning on your (HHHS) part does not constitute an emergency on my part,” he said. He also questioned if it was the best healthcare investment the County could be making now, suggesting an emergency department in Minden as just one option. “I don’t want this to be looked upon as a shiny trinket that’s distracting everybody from our total healthcare situation here.”

He panned the board for a lack of transparency and called for two County council members to be admitted. “This board is making decisions without consulting us, talking, sharing information and it’s probably the most important institution in this County as our population grows and gets older.”

Fearrey replied, “I hear what you’re saying but we can’t keep going back and finding fault. We have to move forward here.”

Coun. Jennifer Dailloux thought the funding arrangement, which included a payback to the County and its taxpayers, is reasonable. However, she agreed with board representation.

Coun. Walt McKechnie said a CT scanner and CT mammography unit will be beneficial and save locals out-oftown trips. He said it will save the ambulance service from transferring patients and attract doctors. He added the funding formula was “not a big hit to anybody right away.”

Coun. Dave Burton also felt it was “not a huge, huge hit to the taxpayers… it’s time for us to move forward, try to get along.”

Warden Liz Danielsen said she had struggled with the ask, trying to separate the need for equipment from concerns over HHHS and re-establishing trust and communications. She also felt the donation should be conditional on board representation. She said in discussions with some HHHS board members, she had been told the change can only be made at next year’s annual general meeting.

Council approved the $1 million conditional on securing two seats on the board.

HHHS and the Foundation

HHHS acting CAO Veronica Nelson told The Highlander, “all donations to the HHHS Foundation are greatly appreciated and have a profound impact on optimizing health and wellbeing in Haliburton County. I look forward to connecting with the County.”

HHHSF executive director Melanie Klodt Wong added they were, “thrilled to have the full support of the County for this vital project that will positively impact health care in the Highlands.”

However, as noted, the support was not “full” with Carter voting against, and the condition of board representation not yet addressed.

Klodt Wong went on to say, “although we still have a long way to go to reach the campaign goal of $4.3 million, this is a big step in the right direction. I look forward to working with the County on the next steps and continuing to work within such a caring community to bring this project to fruition.”