After seven years of volunteering on the board of Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS), the last 18 months as chair, David O’Brien has retired – telling The Highlander, “I’m at a point now where I don’t think I could give any more and be meaningful.”

His decision was announced May 31, on the eve of the first anniversary of the closure of the Minden emergency department.

“Pure coincidence,” O’Brien said, adding he made his intentions known at a May 30 HHHS board meeting. “That’s the last opportunity I had before the AGM [on June 27]… my decision had nothing to do with anything, other than the fact I felt in my own mind it was time to move on. I wanted to see HHHS through the transition… I wanted to make sure the board was in a position to recruit new members. That I’m not sitting there, getting re-elected to the board, and then quitting a few months later.”

He added, “I’m leaving to make room for new people.” O’Brien joined the organization in 2017, shortly after relocating to the Highlands from the GTA. He held several prominent positions during his career, including Mississauga city manager and CEO of Toronto Hydro. He said the experience gained from highprofile day jobs helped him to deal with the pressure, and public outcry, when the Minden ED closed last summer.

O’Brien maintains the HHHS board made the only decision it could, based on logic and reason rather than emotion, when shuttering the department. Though he has, for the first time, admitted there were things the board could have done differently to ensure a smoother transition.

“I think we could have communicated better in retrospect – if we had explained our position a little better maybe that would have helped,” O’Brien said. “But it had to be done. A year ago, we were really struggling with the fact we didn’t have enough doctors and nurses to run two ERs. We’re hardly using any agency nurses now, so that’s been one benefit. That’s saving the organization a lot of money.”

Lauren Ernst, communications lead at HHHS, said the organization hired 80 people between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024, including 26 registered nurses and registered practical nurses and 13 PSWs.

Dr. Ali Bohra came on board as a full-time emergency department physician May 2. He has committed to practicing in the Highlands for at least four years.

Irene Odell, long-time financial committee chair and board vice chair for the past couple of years, will serve as interim chair until the AGM later this month. O’Brien said there, the hospital’s membership will elect a new board, who will select a chair over the summer. He said he’d be surprised if Odell didn’t get the role long-term.

With Odell’s leadership, and that of Veronica Nelson, HHHS CEO, O’Brien believes the organization is in good hands.

“The future of the hospital is solid. There’s always funding issues, so you do worry about