Ford government hiding behind local health service board on Minden ER closing
Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.
The imminent closure of Minden’s ER is nothing more than an unfortunate local decision…if your name is Doug Ford, Sylvia Jones, or Laurie Scott.
Ford, Jones, and Scott, of course, are the premier, the health minister, and the local MPP, all deflecting a decision made by the Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) to close the Minden emergency department, as if they had absolutely nothing to do with this decision.
Earlier this week, Jones chastised the opposition parties for pointing the finger over the closing at the province saying that the decision was strictly a local one and that the province “would support this locally made decision.”
When taken to task by the provincial media on the scheduled closing in Minden, Ford has parroted the same line, suggesting that the province had no role in the final decision. Local MPP Scott, buttressed by supportive keyboard warriors, has both in written answers and in interviews repeated verbatim the self-serving story that the provincial Conservatives had no say in the HHHS decision and therefore have no role in keeping the busy and highly regarded emergency ward open for the residents of Haliburton and the northern regions of Kawartha Lakes. Nothing could be further from the truth, and to believe the provincial talking points indicates a failure of knowledge regarding the role the province plays in funding and managing health care in Ontario.
HHHS gets a significant proportion of its operating budget directly from the province, with the rest coming from public fund-raising campaigns that have been very well supported by the residents of Haliburton County. The province controls the purse strings and HHHS has to make due with what they get. By law, the HHHS cannot run a deficit and may only budget what they have received in provincial grants and through public support.
An analysis from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAOO) says that based on the money currently allocated for health care between 2022 and 2028, the system as a whole will experience a $21 billion shortfall leaving the province with two choices: add new funding or make program cuts or changes to its health care commitments to achieve its health care spending plan targets. It appears with the scheduled closing of the Minden emergency department, and the rumoured closing of other hospitals in Bancroft and Alliston, the province has chosen the latter option which puts HHHS in a real bind.
HHHS president and chief executive officer Carolyn Plummer, who earns in excess of $180,000 a year according to information found on the Ontario Sunshine list site, has told anyone who will listen that the decision to close Minden’s emergency ward was not made for lack of funding but rather a lack of available staff. Plummer has said in numerous interviews and a number of press releases that staffing shortages at the Haliburton and Minden sites have made keeping both open impossible.
One might fairly ask what level of government is responsible for the recruitment, training and pay of medical professionals in Ontario? Is this failure to recruit and retain staff on the HHHS board? Not by a longshot. The FAOO in their most recent report says Ontario will face a shortfall of 33,000 nurses and personal support workers by 2028. Nursing in particular, long seen as a desirable job with security and a pension, cannot recruit enough new nurses to fill the spots left behind by nurses who are reaching retirement age.
What has Doug Ford’s government done to make nursing and personal support worker positions more attractive? Have they offered their nurses a 13 per cent raise over three years like those in British Columbia just received? No. Instead, the Ford Conservatives passed Bill 124 in 2019 that limits pay increases for all hospital workers to one per cent for three years. This attack on free and fair collective bargaining was fully supported by both Jones and Scott.
The province seems to forget that nurses and doctors are the ultimate in free agents who can take their skills anywhere in North America. Hundreds have re-located to the United States and other Canadian provinces where recruiters are promising a better home-life balance, more nurses on the ward at a time and much more money in their pay cheques.
HHHS has not created the conditions for the scheduled closing of Minden’s emergency ward, which saw 12,000 patients last year alone. Ford, Scott and Jones did. The Ford Conservatives have chronically underfunded Ontario’s healthcare system in an attempt to bring it to its knees and make privatization more attractive. The Ford Conservatives consciously and cold-bloodedly decided to go to war with health care workers at all levels, forgetting that these people have very portable skills and will vote with their feet and leave Ontario for greener pastures, like British Columbia.
If the closing of the Minden emergency department does occur on June 1, HHHS and their volunteer board will be made the fall guy if the Ford Conservatives have their way. If life was fair, the provincial Conservatives, rather than HHHS, should be taking full ownership of this healthcare crisis which is 100 per cent of their own making.