At the one-year anniversary of news the Minden emergency department would be closing, health care lobbyists are accusing the Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) of a 36 per cent jump in CAO salary last year; have panned the Ontario government budget; and gone to Queen’s Park to provide feedback on Bill 180 (the budget).

It was announced April 20 of last year that the ER would be closed effective June 1.

Richard Bradley, of the ‘Save Haliburton County Emergency Healthcare Group’ issued a media release claiming, “as the Minden emergency department was closed, the Haliburton Highlands Health Services increased CEO pay by 36 per cent in one year, and 62 per cent since 2016, according to the Sunshine List.”

The Sunshine List is annual reporting of public servants making $100,000 or more.

Bradley said his group, and impacted residents, “find the 36 per cent pay increase quite offensive as the CEO of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services is apparently rewarded for failing the County.”

The 2023 pay was $245,351 salary and $562 benefits for a 36.3 per cent rise from 2022.

No reward

However, HHHS board chair David O’Brien says that isn’t the case at all.

O’Brien, on April 26, said the 36 per cent represented unpaid holidays owed to former CEO Carolyn Plummer at the time she left the organization.

“It’s very simple why this happened. When Carolyn left, we paid out her unused vacation. She never took a vacation during COVID at all. She couldn’t. There was just no time to do it because the hospital was in constant emergency. She had about a dozen or so weeks of vacation to be paid out. That’s exactly what it is. Nothing more than that,” he said.

Meanwhile, founder of ‘Minden Matters and Reopen the Minden ER’, Patrick Porzuczek also issued a release.

He said in the recent Ontario budget, “rural communities like Minden have been overlooked, leaving residents without essential healthcare services and transportation options to hospitals.

“Despite a four per cent increase in overall healthcare spending, Minden, with a closed emergency room, continues to face significant challenges in accessing necessary medical care and transportation to Haliburton hospital.”

He added it has created “a distressing situation” for residents. Porzuczek said it is “particularly worrisome for the elderly and retirees who specifically chose Minden for its proximity to one of the best emergency rooms in rural Ontario.”

Minden groups return to Queen’s Park

The group went to Queen’s Park April 22 to participate in the public hearings on Bill 180. Porzuczek said, “our aim is to advocate for the necessary resources and support our community’s desperate needs, extending beyond Minden to the entire catchment area.”

When it comes to the four per cent base hospital funding, O’Brien said HHHS didn’t know yet what they will be getting. He added they don’t just have Haliburton and Minden hospitals, but also two long-term care homes and community service delivery. He said most long-term care homes are run by municipalities.

“I can’t answer the question whether we’re going to get four per cent because I don’t know where it’s going to be applied to.” He said HHHS expected to know within a month, and in time for the upcoming AGM.

The Highlander also asked about the impact of Bill 124. O’Brien said “the government is paying us but it’s coming in chunks. They will make us whole. They have committed to that.”

He estimated HHHS’ deficit, as of April 26, at approximately $3-$3.5 million.

The Minden Paper also appeared before the standing committee on finance and economic affairs regarding Bill 180 (the budget). They discussed their work, as reported in the April 11 Highlander.

Spokesperson Jeff Nicholls told the committee 25 per cent of Ontario hospitals posted a deficit in 2022, and 75 per cent in 2023. He added one health service, however, posted a large surplus and received in the neighbourhood of 24 per cent funding, compared to four elsewhere.

“The funding allocation inequities suggest disparities and necessitate a review of funding processes to ensure fair distribution and a transparent, data-driven approach to meeting each hospital community’s needs and concerns while maintaining system integrity,” Minden Paper told the committee.

They further panned chronic year-overyear underfunding, Bill 124 hindering recruitment and retention efforts, and forcing a dependence on high-paid agency nursing.

Nicholls added hospital financial reporting, and board meeting minutes, were also inconsistent. The group made recommendations to close those gaps and create standards. They also pointed out what they believe to be “a systemic disregard for community input in healthcare decisions.”