An emergency department in Minden, Ont., is slated to close in one week but residents say they will keep up the pressure on the province to make sure the closure is not permanent.
"We are not statistics," Richard Bradley, a resident, told CBC Toronto on Thursday.
"We are determined. The only statistic we want to be is the town that saves its ER. We pay the same taxes as everybody else does. We deserve and demand that we have safe and accessible health care."
Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) announced in April that it would close the emergency department at its Minden site, approximately 195 kilometres north of Toronto, on June 1 and transfer all emergency services to its Haliburton site due to what it says are medical staffing shortages.
Since then, residents have collected more than 24,000 signatures of people calling for a pause of one year on the planned closure. Still, the local health board said on Thursday it is proceeding with the consolidation of services.
Bradley said residents believe the emergency room at the Haliburton site will eventually be closed as well because it also faces medical staffing shortages. Residents fear they will be "a county without doctors," eventually sent to emergency rooms about an hour's drive away, he said.
"Someone is going to die," said Bradley. "And we are sitting here praying it won't happen but we know it will. Somewhere along the line, somebody who needs to be seen within that golden hour of care for a heart attack or a stroke is not going to get to an emergency department within that hour."
Bradley said June 1 is "not the end" and that residents plan to keep fighting. The hope is that the emergency department can be reopened by September or October, he said.
Community worried, local residents say
Richard Smith, a local pharmacist and a father who has gone to the Minden emergency department frequently with his three children, said everyone who comes into the pharmacy is worried.
"This occupies our community completely. Everybody is talking about it," he said. "We're Ontarians who have health care being closed in our community. That's a big deal. All day long, I'm talking about this," Smith said.
Don Weyrauch, a cottager who had a heart attack recently while golfing, said he went to the Minden emergency department and was flown to Peterborough Regional Health Centre within two hours. He said the closure might change his plans on where to buy property.
"I got really good treatment. This works," Weyrauch said, tearing up. "As far as the staff goes, it was a really good team. Keep it open, obviously. I don't know what my story would have been if it wasn't."
'Not going to take no for an answer': NDP
On Thursday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles went to Minden to meet with residents frustrated about the closure. She said the Ontario government needs to take action to save the emergency room.
"We're not going to take no for an answer here. This community deserves that kind of care, and if we don't, frankly, save this emergency department, then this is just going to mean more pressure on other rural small town hospitals," Stiles said.
"What happens in Minden is what's going to happen across this province if we're not careful," she added.
Carolyn Plummer, president and CEO of HHHS, said in an email on Thursday that the consolidation is set to go ahead June 1.
Plummer said the health authority has been working closely with the health ministry and Ontario Health and that the ministry and agency are aware of HHHS's staffing challenges.
"We appreciate their support to ensure we have the resources we need to support the new consolidated model of emergency services," Plummer said.
Hannah Jensen, press secretary for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, said in an email on Thursday that the minister has no new comment to make on the issue.
Jones has said that saying the consolidation of the two emergency departments would "provide more timely access to care."
On April 27, when asked in Question Period if the province would pause the impending closure, Jones said local health boards make decisions independent of the ministry.
"We have been assured that the Haliburton Highlands Health Services board and leadership have made this decision carefully and thoughtfully, understanding and appreciating the needs of their community and their staff. I will let them do that work," Jones said.
According to the ministry, the Minden site has been used primarily to stabilize patients before they are dispatched to larger centres and it does not have any inpatient beds. Often, patients at the Minden site would be transported to Haliburton to receive acute care. The ministry said the Minden site will remain open for some services.