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The emergency department in Minden, Ontario closed on June 1 despite widespread community pushback. All ER services will shift to the hospital Haliburton. Photo: Robert R/Yelp Photo.

Closure of Minden ER Signals More Sinister Acts Ahead for Ford Government

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
June 2, 2023
Closure of Minden ER Signals More Sinister Acts Ahead for Ford Government
The emergency department in Minden, Ontario closed on June 1 despite widespread community pushback. All ER services will shift to the hospital Haliburton. Photo: Robert R/Yelp Photo.

The recent closure of an emergency room in Minden, Ontario on June 1st signals something deeply cruel and rotten in the hearts of the Ford government. It is, in the words of Spadina-Fort York MPP Chris Glover, “a warning shot to all other rural communities across Ontario.”

The warning shot itself had just barely sounded, however, as the closure, which was announced in April, left just six weeks for residents of Minden and the surrounding municipalities to adjust to the fact that they would be losing access to a key part of their healthcare system. This timeline in and of itself does nothing to suggest that anything resembling meaningful consultation occurred prior to the final decision being made.

In a May 25th community message, Haliburton Highlands Health Service (HHHS) Acting Chief of Staff, Dr. Norm Bottum stated that the decision was made due to “multiple, unpredictable, last-minute closures” HHHS has faced and that they remained “confident that the staffing coverage model will continue to deliver the emergency care you depend on, every time you need it.”

This is, to put it lightly, a bold statement. The Minden ER saw 13,000 visits in 2022. Its closure, coming as its does at the beginning of the area’s busiest time of year with the influx of tourists, campers, cottagers, and hobbyists, means that the closure will no doubt place an increased burden on what is already an overburdened, understaffed healthcare system in the area. Surely the end result of adding over 10,000 new admissions to a single unit which, by their own admission, has been over burdened, will not result in what Bottum called “consistent service.”

Perhaps the lack of qualifiers is the key here: Consistently what exactly? If, as the statement suggests, "safe" and "stable" is what is expected, one could be excused for having their doubts.

It is, for all intents and purposes, an indication of where healthcare is heading in this province following the passage of Bill 60. This closure, and the malignant indifference of the Ford government to the interests of those living in Minden and other rural parts of the province is not surprising so much as it again peels back another paper-thin layer to reveal a fresh facet of the bubbling morass of moral turpitude this government thrives on. 

Hundreds of community members rallied in opposition to the decision by the HHHS Board to close the Minden ER in order to consolidate the services with an Emergency Room in Haliburton. Minister of Health and Long Term Care, Sylvia Jones, consistently noted the fact that this was a local issue and that the HHHS had made the decision thoughtfully and in the best interests of the community.

Unfortunately, the fact that the management of hospitals and healthcare in the province falls squarely within her ministerial portfolio. This is, it would seem, a surprise to the current Minister based on her repeated insistence that there was nothing that she could do to prevent the closure.

Significantly, the same day as the Minden ER closed, Jones announced funding for northern emergency room staffing. This funding, which Jones suggests prevented 1500 closures in 2022, was not renewed after it expired on March 31st of this year and prior to the June 1st announcement, there had been no indication that it would be.

Throughout the six weeks between the announcement of the ER’s closure and when it finally did shut its doors on June 1st, members of the NDP Opposition in Queen’s Park vocally called upon Jones and the Premier to intervene and impose a moratorium of one year to review the HHHS decision and consult with the community.

Leader of the Opposition, Marit Stiles, and NDP Health Critic and MPP for Nickel Belt, France Gélinas, stood at the forefront of this effort and repeatedly stated their solidarity with the people of Minden and the surrounding area. On May 30th, Stiles even presented a series of petitions signed by over 24,000 residents of Ontario calling on the Government to take action and ensure that adequate consultation with the community was carried out prior to the decision being finalized. Efforts within the community to raise funds for a legal injunction fell short of the initial $100,000 target and ultimately failed to achieve the intended legal intervention. 

The local MPP for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, Laurie Scott, has thus far remained largely quiet throughout this time, even reportedly refusing to meet with or acknowledge constituents and business owners when they visited Queen’s Park on May 30th. This is a pattern among Ontario’s Conservative politicians. It is a political strategy hedged against the fact that should they ever make a public statement, it would be so disasterously idiotic, callous, and misguided that it could threaten the party’s hold on power.

On June 1st, Scott mustered the courage to send out a series of tweets stating that she had started working on an application for an urgent care clinic at the site of the ER.

“Having no plan in place for the Minden ER location is unacceptable and I have been in action pursuing a solution,” Scott wrote on the day of the closure. Ultimately it is unclear to whom she believes this situation would be unacceptable given the Minister’s total apathy and her own disinterest in advocating for her constituents. 

Jones—whose withering appearances in the legislature come across as less a moment of political theatre than the words of a very tired and uninspired drama student whose lines were written by her overbearing father—decided to venture a little closer to the sun than some of her peers.

After a press conference on May 30th at which the aforementioned local business owners voiced their legitimate fears about the economic impact of the closure, the Health Minister’s office released a statement to local media which stated in part that “this consolidation was made by Haliburton Highlands Health Services Board, as they are responsible for daily operational decisions” before adding the gut-punch of spin by suggesting that this situation “is not a closure.”

Leader of the Ontario NDP, Marit Stiles stands outside the Minden ER with a sign which clearly indicates a closure is to occur on June 1st. Photo courtesy of Marit Stiles/Twitter.

Based on some of the discourse to which I have been privy online, this statement has not played well with constituents in Minden. Many people who seem to be capable of reading have pointed out that the sign directly out front of the ER states “EMERGENCY DEPT CLOSED JUNE 1 2023 VISIT HALIBURTON HOSPITAL 7199 GELERT ROAD.” 

Emphasis added for any Conservative sympathizers, Ministers, or Members who have made it this far. 

The statement would go on to peddle a notion which sounds like the leaked transcripts of an Ayn Rand character’s wet dream:

“Hospitals are an independent corporation [sic] who are authorized to direct their own operations, including decisions respecting services that they provide and in what locations, the Ministry of Health is not involved in these decisions and to suggest so is false.”

And so there it is. This is the small government we’ve been waiting for -– the perverse will to personify corporate entities, no accountability, no interest in the wellbeing of constituents, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the provincial government in ensuring equitable access to healthcare.

Promises made. Promises kept.  

As the people of Minden took to the streets and the grounds and press boxes of Queen’s Park to demand their representative take action to secure their health and wellness, we all got to bear witness to the cold reality that this government is not so much for the people as it is for the stringent maintenance of comfort for elites while the poor, addicted, disabled, homeless, sick, mentally-ill, etc. can eat shit and die at their earliest convenience. Preferably, they would do so quietly so as not to disturb those in power.

Locally, Peterborough Regional Health Centre is facing a staffing shortage of nearly 500 as medical staff continue to leave the profession owing in part to this government’s anti-labour stances as famously demonstrated in the Charter right-shredding Bill 124. 

The glee with which Ford and his government seems bent on ensuring the untenability of public health care in this province is, frankly, maniacal. Bill 60, which allows for the creation of “integrated community health services centres” in the province is the next step in the overarching plan to slowly leach staff and resources from the public sector into the private sector while at the same time denying that this is the end goal.

However, public resistance to legistlation is palpable. In a recent referendum organized by the Ontario Health Coalition, a group which represents over 500 organizations, local health coalitions and individual members, 98% of the 386,000 people who voted stated their opposition to the privatization of clinics in the province. Peterborough-Kawartha MPP, Dave Smith, called it a “stunt” before going on to tell the Examiner that “a referendum is held by government – it’s not held by another group.”

Shocking as it is to hear a sitting Progressive Conservative Member suggest the government has any role in the lives of the citizens of this province, we again find that when Conservatives speak they tend to miss the point or reveal themselves to be bereft of a working knowledge of the subject matter they are attempting to engage with.   

But I digress. It isn’t exactly difficult to imagine a scenario where the newly emptied public clinics, already zoned for medical use, wouldn’t be prime real estate for investors in the healthcare sector to pounce on. Similar clinics have been set up in British Columbia where, in 2022, the province granted nearly $400M in contracts to private clinics, and in Québec, where they have left patients paying out of pocket for procedures which otherwise should have been be covered and led to staffing shortages in public settings. Ringing any bells? 

As France Gélinas stated of the ongoing privatization of surgical and diagnostic centres during a recent press conference: “I wouldn't be surprised at all if there's a bunch of investors who just can't wait till the Minden hospital is no longer needed.”

“They will move in and they will use the resources that are there and expand on the for profit [model]. I hope that I'm wrong, but I dealt with Bill 60 and I see the eagerness of the investor to make a pile of money off the back of sick people,” Gélinas continued, tracing the logical next steps and twisted motives.

Ontario under Doug Ford continues to circle the drain into a series of god-forsaken highways, shopping centres, and endless suburban sprawl with access to affordable public healthcare dwindling each and every day. It’s equally clear that Ford and his army of bootlickers, past and present, don’t care for or about the general population of this province. It is therefore incumbent upon us all to pay attention to what is happening and engage as thousands of people have in Minden, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, and across the province over the past six weeks.

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