Hundreds of Manitoba nurses rally at legislature to oppose cutbacks

Last Wednesday, hundreds of nurses and other front-line workers protested at the Manitoba Legislature about budget cuts they claim will compromise patient care in the province.

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurse's Union said:"We want the government to put patients first and focus on making investments and improvements in health care." About 600 nurses and other protesters gathered at the steps of the provincial legislative building. They oppose the government plans to close three emergency rooms and also cut the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority budget by $83 million. The government has also ordered health agencies and Crown corporations to cut 15 percent of management positions among other cost-saving measures in the health care system.
Half of Winnipeg's Emergency Rooms will be closed in the cutbacks. This will mean patients in emergency will need to travel further and also that there may be delays as well. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority may attempt to privatize some services as it tries to achieve $83 million in savings. The shortage of doctors in rural Manitoba is bound to get worse as the Health Minister Kelvin Goerzten confirmed that the government would also axe a program designed to attract doctors to rural and remote parts of the province. The Conservative government has massive support in most rural areas and yet the government is punishing those who are most supportive of it.
The nurses union represents about 12,000 employees across the province. The union fears the cuts will affect nurses' ability to provide quality care for patients. Mowat said of the government claim that it wanted to decrease wait times: "I don't understand how decreasing the number of emergency rooms is going to decrease wait times. We have to see the concrete plan … where are all these people going to go?" Mowat said that there had been no consultation about the proposed closing of the three emergency departments with the group. She said that patients will be put at risk as they need to travel further. She said that nurses and other front-line workers needed to be consulted on these issues saying: "Step back, and do some consultation with the front-line nurses to ask them. We agree that the system needs work, we agree that there are inefficiencies. We can help them figure out what those inefficiencies are. Nurses know a lot about patient care and no one asked us."
The Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he had an obligation to reduce wait times. He said this means making tough decisions now to ensure a better future. However, to reduce wait times one surely might need to spend more money on staff and consult nurses and other front-line workers as to how this might be achieved. Goerzen is doing the exact opposite. His response explains nothing but is hopeful froth: "My hope of course is that in the years ahead that people will look back and say, 'Was it easy? No. Was it challenging? It was. But was it the right thing to do? Absolutely,." They will look back and say: "Why did I ever vote for the Progressive Conservatives." The Premier Brian Pallister said that he understood why people are concerned about the health care changes but said they should not fear.
Perhaps Pallister gets health care in Costa Rica where he has a luxurious property at which he hopes to spend six to eight weeks every year. His home in a rich part of Winnipeg on Wellington Crescent is worth about $2 million. The home is 9,000 square feet and has a seven car garage and a basketball court.
Katie Bryant, an emergency room nurse at Victoria General Hospital said: "People with life-threatening illnesses and life-threatening problems are going to have to be travelling further to hospitals to get the care that they need and that's unsafe and it's putting people at risk unnecessarily. I wish that they would have consulted more with front line staff and more with people that are there every single day, triaging these patients, taking care of these patients on wards, dealing with families, who are now potentially going to have to travel even further to visit loved ones."
The grant program to attract doctors to remote and rural areas of Manitoba in 2001 and changed in 2010, gives medical students grants of $12,000 in each of their four years at medical school and also further grants to physicians establishing a practice in Manitoba. For each year students were given the grant they were required to six months in an under-services part of the province upon graduation. The cut will save the government about $4.2 million a year. However, it will also leave some rural and remote areas even less able to find physicians serve them. It will no doubt have zero effect on the health care received by Pallister and his family.
Health Minister Goerzen said that money was not one of the most motivating factors in doctor's decision as to where to practice. But it might be a consideration for poorer medical students to have $12,000 each year to pay for their education expenses! Goerzen said: "We are going to put together a more central, provincial strategy in terms of how do we attract and retain doctors. We're moving the resources and attention to the things that actually motivate doctors to come and stay in the province." He said that the new approach would involve a more coordinated approach that would not see rural regional health authorities fighting each other for doctors. It sounds as if the government is going to centralize decision making taking any local control over health care facilities and funding away from them. Recruiting more doctors was a central plank in the Conservative platform. How this is to be accomplished has yet to be revealed. What the government has done so far is to ensure that Winnipeg has less emergency services and that rural areas will have even more difficulty recruiting doctors to serve their communities.


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