Health care in Boissevain is not broken, so it does not need to be fixed but instead supported, said those involved in a health care meeting in the community last weekend.
River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard, the former Manitoba Liberal leader and current Health Critic, was in town for a health care check up on Saturday, April 14. A small but engaged crowd showed up for the meeting, including four Boissevain-Morton councillors, to share their concerns about the Pallister government’s plans for health care in the province and what they could do about it.
MLA Jon Gerrard, of the Liberal party and current Health Critic, was in Boissevain on Saturday, April 14 for a health care check up of the community. PHOTO BY PAUL RAYNER
Gerrard opened by saying he was in the middle of several of these meetings across Manitoba. He had several different questions about health care to discuss with participants, but began with an interesting fact. Cuts made to health care in Manitoba were greater than needed, as the government underspent in the department by $115 million last year.
“We need to be aware there is actually more money in the health care budget than was spent,” Gerrard stated.
The first question he started with was a positive one – what is working well? As Gerrard explained, it is important to know what is working well in order to build on it, not destroy it. He used the example of CancerCare in different communities as something that was working. What was working well in Boissevain?
In Boissevain, there seems to be quite a bit. Much of this comes from Dr. Nell and Nurse Practitioner Sheryl Campbell. Their relationship of working together, as well as connecting patients to specialized testing and care was a big positive for the community. Gerrard agreed with this, saying stability was important, adding that in some northern communities they try to work through locums and it does not have positive results. Shared on-call with Deloraine is also working well for all concerned. As well, the lab and x-ray are able to get results off to other facilities quickly.
The EMS system is also a positive, but this has become an area of concern locally. Right now, you can get an ambulance in about six minutes, and sometimes they will serve as an extra set of hands at the health centre. The government, however, has announced a plan where they will shut down many ambulance garages in Manitoba, including Boissevain’s, and go to more regional care. This is a very controversial decision locally, with the municipality and citizens fighting it at every level.
Gerrard said there were plans to keep ambulances out of communities altogether, instead parking them at junctures along the road and waiting for an emergency. Not only was that a waste of manpower, but also as Councillor Doug Robertson said, it puts EMS personnel in danger. What if someone tried to rob the ambulance of drugs? These are bad situations no one thinks of until they happen.
This segued into what was not working in health care. There were concerns there was too much uncertainty. As Councillor Judy Swanson explained, the community is working toward an assisted living facility and is willing to put money into it, but we need to know we will have health care in the community going into the future to support it.
“In order to keep people here,” Swanson explained, “we need strong health care. We have that now, but we are on the edge of our seats because we don’t really know what will happen.”
This led to discussion of the lack of consultation between locals and higher levels on health care, like the Province and the RHA’s. If anything, it has always been a one-way street, often negative. For example, the Health Care Auxiliary had shown interest recently in paying for a new piece of equipment for the lab. The RHA simply said no, although it would not cost them anything.
Another major concern is the loss of local pharmacy services for personal care homes. Another government decision made all of these services based out of Winnipeg from an Ontario company. This not only hurts economically, it means patients would not get the same amount of care as they did before.
What would improve health care in Boissevain? The community could use Telehealth – which allows on-screen consultations with specialist. Right now, you have to go to Killarney or Deloraine. Better cell service and broadband Internet in rural areas would also help.
As well, there definitely needs to be more communication between communities and higher authorities, the government should not be pitting communities against each other.
The different municipalities are in fact working well together on different solutions to health care concerns. One interesting idea that has come up for the future is a “super hospital” at the corner of Highways 3 and 10. Swanson explained that the task force sat down and talked about different ideas and one that came up was a regional hospital. Facilities as they age out will probably not be replaced, so one looked at was regional hospital at 3 and 10.
“I think everyone at the table knew we had to look at something regional,” Swanson explained after the meeting, “so that was one of the recommendations.”
They looked at it like Morden and Winkler, where they have surgeons come out of Winnipeg. The 3 and 10 centre could have them come out of Brandon to service the whole area, including Melita and Souris. The need is to have health care services accessible in rural areas. Swanson added more discussions would be ongoing on the issue.
Gerrard himself was supportive of the concept.
“I think it makes sense from what I know,” he stated. “There is a feeling that the junction of 3 and 10 is a logical site, but the first decision is not the location. The first decision has to be - will there be a regional hospital and what is it going to do. I think it’s positive that the municipalities are working together.”
After the meeting, Gerrard explained his take on what he heard from people in Boissevain.
“I’m just pleased to have had a good dialogue with the people of Boissevain, to talk about health care and the changes. It seems you have the physician and nurse practitioner working well in Boissevain. I think people seem to think health care works well here (and) they don’t want to lose what they have.”
Gerrard said the government seems to have a feeling the health care system in the province is broken and needs to be fixed. He does not share that diagnosis and says this is not what he is hearing from communities.
“Instead, they need to be looking at what is working. Those things need to be kept and be models.”
He said every community he has visited is different, but there are common concerns. Ambulance care is one. Gerrard said the Pallister government’s plans are deeply flawed, as paramedics play a big role in communities. As well, centralized pharmaceutical services takes local pharmacists out of the health care team, which is very important locally. There is also a greater need for communities to have a voice in what is happening to them.
“I am here as the Liberal Health Critic,” Gerard stated, “and I am here to learn and advocate for the people here in Boissevain. We want what is working well to continue, that we continue to have ambulance service here, that we continue to have more local autonomy and control over health care decisions.”
He added he would use the information collected in different communities for discussion in the legislature.
by PAUL RAYNER, Recorder staff