By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Minden councillor took the township’s mayor to task for comments that were perceived to disparage a proposal for an urgent care clinic at the former emergency department.
Councillor Tammy McKelvey pushed for a special meeting of council, which was held June 5, so her colleagues could learn about a proposal put forward by the Kawartha North Family Health Team (KNFHT) to open a clinic in Minden. And, she said, the meeting was an opportunity for Mayor Bob Carter to explain comments he’d made in the media against the proposal.
Marina Hodson, the executive director of KNFHT and a Minden Hills resident, said the team sent an expression of interest to Ontario Health to receive funding for an eight-hour a day, seven days a week service at the former Minden emergency department (ED).
Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) permanently closed the Minden ED June 1. Emergency services have been consolidated at the Haliburton health facility.
KNFHT is a community-based family health team serving the residents of the northern parts of the City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County, and Trent Lakes. They have provided access to primary health care by nurse practitioners, physicians, and nursing staff in Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon since 2007.
The team has also operated unfunded walk-in clinics, paid for by donations from local residents, since 2012.
The KNFHT proposal is for an urgent care clinic at the former Minden emergency department.
“Our Minden ER now sits empty and I will always support any opportunities to have our ER opened again,” McKelvey said. “However, I will also support any opportunities to provide health care to our residents and our visitors.”
The proposed urgent care clinic is a chance to provide services to individuals who are without a family doctor. It will also take some of the pressure off the Haliburton emergency department, she said.
McKelvey said she heard soundbites in the media seen correspondence that indicated Carter wasn’t in support of the KNFHT proposal.
In his defence, Carter said he’d done a number of television interviews back-to-back on the day the KNFHT announced that an application had been made to Ontario Health for funding.
“Each interview was probably 15, 20 minutes long and I’m sure there was a fairly small snippet that was used of those interviews,” Carter said.
He surmised that the quote of his that McKelvey has taken umbrage at was Carter saying he isn’t supportive of the proposal.
“The rest of the sentence (in the interview) went because I do not speak for council and this is a decision that council would have to make,” he said. “I did not say that I was not in support of this.
“I was not willing, as you saw in the letter, I was not willing to provide my support when asked about it because I was told about it the day before the announcement was going to go out. And this was a decision of council to make, and not me.”
He said one of the biggest criticisms Minden council had about HHHS was that decisions were made “in the backroom” without consultation.
“I didn’t want us to be also part of a situation that was taking place in the same way because this hasn’t been discussed with the local folks, at the county level, or anywhere here in Minden. I think there’s reasons for that: because of the compressed nature of the time and the need to put something out there.”
Any solution should be shared with all the stakeholders, he said.
“I have some concerns about it,” Carter said. “But I certainly never … would be in a situation where I’m going to turn down any health care in Haliburton County or in Minden.”
Since the last census, the county’s population grew by 21 per cent, he said. Consider that next to a decrease in the number of physicians from 14 down to eight.
Carter said there could be six walk-in health clinics in Haliburton County and, likely, the region would still be lacking.
“I want to make sure that whatever we do we decide as a council and we decide to work together with the whole community and the stakeholders,” he said. “Whatever that we do in this facility is what’s right for us and what’s right for the people.”
Being a resident, Hodson said she has a vested interest in local health care. She was as surprised as everybody else when the Minden ED’s closure was announced.
“Like probably most of the people in this room and anybody who might be watching, I was very hopeful that (decision) would be overturned,” she said.
When it became apparent the closure would stand, Hodson said she marshalled HHHS, the Haliburton County Paramedic Service, and other stakeholders in community wellness and health care to find out if anything else could be done.
The idea for the urgent care clinic was borne of that meeting and a proposal was forwarded with ample time before a June 16 Ontario Health deadline.
Coun. Pam Sayne thanked Hodson for the initiative to pursue such a service for the region.
“You could’ve been out having a nice weekend,” Sayne said.
Sayne said she’s been asked if council will provide a shuttle service of sorts to Minden residents who have to go to the Haliburton facility.
“It’s providing something immediate that you saw you could do in your role that nobody else could do and no one was in a position to do it, and you took advantage of that,” she said.
“It does not let HHHS off the hook. It does not let the province off the hook. It doesn’t let anybody off the hook. We all got to keep doing what we’re doing and do the best we can.”
McKelvey said there’s a concern in the community that, with the KNFHT clinic on site, the emergency department will never return to the Minden facility.
Though the proposal hasn’t gotten funding, Hodson said the possibility of a lease scenario could be explored to quash any misconception that there’s no room for the return of the ED.
“Before implementation, we need to go out and we need to have discussions with the community partners … to say what are then concerns and how can be mitigate those?” she said. “And can we best meet the needs of the communities.”
Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell asked what the hours of operation would be at the urgent care clinic.
“I can’t tell you that,” Hodson said. “I can tell you when I’ve gone to the emerge and when it was busy and when it wasn’t, but that’s just a guess, right?
“I would definitely be open to consult.”
Council voted to support the KNFHT proposal.