After weeks of pressure over the recent closure of a hospital emergency department in Minden with the busy summer cottage season approaching, the Ontario government says it will fund an urgent care clinic on the premises — but without doctors.
The plan is to have the clinic open on weekends starting June 30, and staffed by nurse practitioners and nurses, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement Tuesday.
Emergency cases will still have to make the 25-minute trip to the nearest hospital emergency room in Haliburton, which local residents have warned could result in life-threatening delays in care.
“We recognize the need for all Ontarians to have access to convenient care, closer to home, no matter where they live in the province,” said Jones, whose government has been under fire for the ER closure by Haliburton Highlands Health Services.
The ER closure — or “consolidation” with the Haliburton site, as the move was described by HHHS — was announced in an April 20 news release, giving locals just six weeks’ notice. The decision sparked fierce resistance from the community in the form of a local “Save Minden ER” group that staged protests, launched petitions and placed lawn signs and billboards throughout the surrounding cottage country. The Minden ER closed as of June 1.
HHHS defended its decision, saying the area had been hit by severe nursing staff shortages in the past year and a half, as well as physician shortages at the Haliburton ER. The consolidation of emergency services in Haliburton, HHHS said, was in part due to the fact that the site is the only place in Haliburton County that has in-patient acute care beds.
Minden Hill Mayor Bob Carter said he’s pleased the government has decided to fund the urgent care clinic, but said it is “just a fraction of what we’ve lost.”
“This is an urgent care clinic staffed by nurse practitioners as opposed to an emergency room staffed by emergency room doctors,” Carter said. “They can treat the person that comes in with poison ivy and the person that comes in, perhaps, with a fishhook in the thumb … but obviously any other types of emergencies that are more serious than that, whether it be heart disease or trauma, that’s not something that they are either equipped to handle from their expertise and also from the equipment that would be available.
“This is not an emergency department.”
Jeff Nicholls, a spokesperson for a group calling itself the Minden Position Paper Team, made up of community advocates, health-care professionals and local stakeholders said while urgent care clinics provide excellent care, “they are not where people need to go in the case of an emergency.”
“While we recognize we desperately need additional health-care options throughout Haliburton County, we do not need a UCC in the former home of our ER. We need our ER back where it stood for nearly 30 years — saving lives and serving as a bastion of all that’s great about our community.”
The local Progressive Conservative MPP, Laurie Scott of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, said the move to provide provincial funding to the Kawartha North Family Health Team for the urgent care clinic is “good news.”
In the statement, the Health Ministry said planning is underway to operate the clinic up to seven days a week based on community needs and that it will “provide care to patients with unexpected but non-life threatening health care concerns through walk-ins and booked appointments.”
The amount of funding was not specified.
The statement added that the Kawartha North Family Health Team, which has been serving the residents of the northern parts of the City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County and Trent Lakes since 2007, is working with the community to determine how best the clinic can serve local residents.
“We are very proud to be responding to a community need and continue our commitment to service by operating an Urgent Care Clinic at the Minden site,” said Marina Hodson, executive director of the family health team.
At Queen’s Park, the NDP said the clinic falls short of what area residents have lost.
“Adding nurse practitioners in Minden is a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t replace the big blue ‘H’ that came down three weeks ago … that represents 24/7 emergency care, lifesaving care,” said New Democrat MPP France Gelinas (Nickel Belt), her party’s health critic.
“When school gets out, kids and families will be flocking to the area’s hockey training camps, cottages with jet skis, ATVs and fishing boats. These activities will become a daily occurrence in Minden this summer, not just on the weekends when the nurse practitioners are in town.”
Minden resident Richard Bradley said the decision to open the urgent care clinic on weekends, at least initially, “doesn’t really do much for people who live in Minden.”
“I’m not impressed. It’s not a replacement and for anyone who happens to be around Monday to Friday, it’s nothing,” he said. “We had a whole loaf of bread, and this is like offering us a burnt crust.”
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