OPINION: The government needs to listen to health care workers before it’s too late

Concordia ER rally signs and activists

Concerned health care workers and residents rally to save the Concordia ER in May 2019.

Jun 14, 2019

Michelle Gawronsky

The Pallister government is sticking to its flawed plan to overhaul Manitoba’s health care system, even though the plan’s author has revealed numerous problems with the rollout.

Earlier this week, the Health Minister finally released the “quality assurance” report authored by Dr. David Peachey – the consultant whose original review served as the blueprint for many of the health care changes the Pallister government continues to push through, including the closure of three Winnipeg ERs.

The new report reviews the government’s hospital consolidation plan and reveals that the Premier and the Health Minister have known things are much worse than what they’ve been telling Manitobans over the past few weeks.

The report identifies a lack of hospital bed capacity, poor planning, increasing wait times, and “seriously low morale” in some health care facilities. Dr. Peachey says, “Overall confidence has been lost in Phase Two” and he says that the plan should be paused.

You would think this kind of recommendation from the author of the original consolidation plan would set off alarm bells for the Health Minister and Premier. Instead, they’ve doubled down on their transformation by closing the Concordia ER, converting it into an Urgent Care Centre a month ahead of schedule, and are pushing ahead to convert the Seven Oaks ER to Urgent Care in September.

Health care workers are feeling the fallout from these rushed changes. For two years, MGEU members and other health care professionals have been saying that not enough thought has gone into the plan, and not enough has been done to anticipate the effects of these systemic changes.

Staffing shortages have become all-too-common and remain a significant problem, as many health care professionals – faced with the uncertainty of knowing if they will still have a job next month – are leaving for more stability. Those who stay have been overwhelmed with unreasonable workloads. Peachey says that it is “entirely predictable” that the quality of care for patients “is and will be compromised.”

The cracks are already showing. An internal memo sent to St. Boniface staff this past Wednesday (which was later leaked to media) said the number of emergency department patients had reached "critical and unsafe levels." As a result, the hospital was forced to redirect patients away from its emergency department. This is not at all common. In fact, the President of St. Boniface Hospital recalls only two times when it has ever happened at the hospital. The other time was earlier this month on June 3 – the same day the emergency department at Concordia Hospital was converted into an urgent care centre.

Somehow, the WRHA maintains the closure of Concordia’s ER and “unsafe levels” at St. Boniface are not at all connected.

What’s particularly painful for those working in health care at this time, is that the chaos caused by these changes does not surprise them at all. The MGEU has been asking for two years, on behalf of health care workers, for the Premier and the Health Minister to listen to those on the frontlines before proceeding with their plan.

In his review released this week Dr. Peachey also made note of this by saying, “Concerns were expressed that the planning for the region was implemented by directive rather than reasoned consultation.”

Going from six acute care hospitals to three in a very short period of time is a major undertaking and we have repeatedly insisted that the most knowledgeable and best-suited to provide useful feedback are those on the frontlines working in our hospitals and dealing with the issues on a daily basis.

But the Health Minister isn’t prepared to listen to the experts who provide our care every day. When asked about the review this week, the Minister told reporters, “we won’t go back.”

It’s not difficult to understand why those who work in health care are feeling frustrated. They just want their voices to be heard. But rather than take the opportunity to listen to those who provide our care, the Health Minister and the Premier are keeping their hands firmly cupped over their ears as our health care system falls further into crisis.

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