Cathy Mauro, a volunteer with the ‘Reopen Minden ER’ group, is aiming to have 250,000 people sign a new petition launched in Minden last week calling on all Ontarians to join forces and fight widespread cuts to rural healthcare.

Speaking at the site of the former Minden emergency department May 31, on the eve of the first anniversary of its closure, Mauro said she’s taking a stand against what she believes is a concerted effort to decimate the province’s public health care system.

“This has become an epidemic with hospitals losing services and ER closures across Ontario… this is happening in all rural Ontario. We’re trying to unite everyone to tell the government enough is enough,” Mauro said.

The petition calls on the province to properly fund rural hospitals to improve quality of life and prevent avoidable deaths, Mauro said.

“We’re asking for full transparency and accountability from the ministry and local rural hospital boards in spending, including accessible information on healthcare expenditures, and to actually involve the public when there’s going to be a significant decision made about a hospital,” Mauro noted.

Minden ‘guinea pig’ for hospital closures

The ‘Reopen Minden ER’ group plans to deliver the petition to the Ontario Legislature in September. It will be the second petition the group has formalized, following one last summer calling for the Minden ER to be reopened – signed by 40,000 people.

While there has been no further permanent closures since the Minden ER was shuttered June 1, 2023, Mauro said there have been temporary closures at 22 other rural hospitals, while facilities in Chesley, Clinton, Fort Erie, and Port Colborne have seen hours reduced.

Residents of Durham, ON are mobilizing after South Bruce Grey Health Centre – parent organization of the Durham hospital – recently announced the facility’s 10 inpatient beds were being moved to more central locations in Walkerton and Kincardine later this month. The town’s mayor, Kevin Eccles, declared a state of emergency May 28.

Mauro said she feels for residents of the community, located 90 kilometres north of Guelph.

“It’s appalling what’s happening there. It seems to me like Minden was the guinea pig for closing hospitals or reducing services in Ontario,” she said.

One year later

Patrick Porzuczek, of ‘Reopen Minden ER’, said he’s still hurting from the local closure. With a sick daughter dealing with a heart condition, Porzuczek said he has spent much of the past year living in fear, wondering what would happen if she required immediate care.

Recently, the family received a defibrillator – donated by Philips Canada – providing a “much-needed security blanket” in case of emergency. Still, Porzuczek said he’ll continue fighting.

“What I’m hearing is people really miss the Minden ER. They don’t feel they’re being cared for or have the same level of service they had at the Minden ER,” Porzuczek said. “A piece of our community was taken from us. We’re the lightweights versus the heavyweights in this fight, but nobody is giving up.”

About 20 people attended a tree planting ceremony at the Minden hospital site June 1. Porzuczek said the group secured permission from Haliburton Highlands Health Services to plant a magnolia on the grounds, close to the memorial for former ER physician Dr. David Fiddler.

“We chose it because, in the spring, this beautiful flower starts to blossom and show us the dark days are behind us. We’re hoping it will have the same effect on this hospital,” Porzuczek said.

In a statement submitted to The Highlander, HHHS CEO Veronica Nelson said she feels enhancements made to the Minden hospital since the ED closure, and elsewhere, have helped to fill the void.

“I am proud of the new partnerships we have forged with Kawartha Lakes Haliburton OHT and our community nursing clinic partners SE Health and Paramed, and those we have rekindled with Haliburton Highlands Family Medican Centre, and Kawartha North Family Health Team through the urgent care clinic,” Nelson said.

“Healthcare in Ontario looks and feels very different than it did in the recent past. Not Deadline: Nov 2023 Designer: JK having access to care is not an option for our community. Planning health care in an innovative and collaborative way is critical for optimizing health and wellbeing of Haliburton County,” she added.

Minden Paper chimes in

Jeff Nicholls, one of the leaders behind the Minden Paper group that has spent the past 14 months analyzing HHHS’ reasoning for last summer’s shuttering, said the team has expanded their scope to look at what’s happening at all of Ontario’s 140 public hospital corporations.

The results, he said, have been startling. They found 102 hospitals ended the 2023 fiscal year with a deficit – an increase from 33 at the end of the 2022 fiscal year. The average deficit rose by 992 per cent, from $545,000 to $5.9 million, with the total deficit climbing 3,300 per cent – from $17.9 million to $610 million.

Minden Paper has called on the auditor general to launch a full-scale investigation into the Minden ER closure.

“Far too many questions remain unanswered. Had the public learned more from those who made the decision, perhaps we could have stopped not only Minden ER’s closure but others across the province,” Nicholls said.

“Compelled by Minden ER’s closure, we audited the financial statements of every hospital in Ontario and used the data to inform a publicly available, searchable database. We want people to see that Minden was the first, but will certainly not be the last,” he added.

The database is available at mindenpaper. com/hospital-funding.

“It’s not too late to stand against the privatization of our public healthcare system. We truly believe it’s not too late to bring back Minden’s hospital – it should have never been closed in the first place,” Nicholls said.