Some Manitobans will have to pay out-of-pocket for outpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy starting this fall, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says.
The health authority is "moving adult outpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics out of hospital to private-practice providers by mid-October," the WRHA announced Tuesday.
"For patients, it means you're going to have to pay out-of-pocket for it. If you don't have insurance — health insurance through your employer — or if you make just enough money not to qualify as a vulnerable person or [for] the means test, you will be paying for these services out-of-pocket," said Bob Moroz, the president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
"If someone comes into one of our trauma centres with a traumatic hand injury, the therapy simply won't be available within the hospital system and they will be forced — from what I can gather already — to go to private [providers]."
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It's not yet known how many patients this will affect, but a spokesperson for the WRHA said "detailed work is underway to determine the number of patients at outpatient clinics who do not have private insurance. Exceptions will be made for specialty rehabilitation services and for patients who would not be able to afford to attend private clinics."
'A disaster for so many Manitobans'
Moroz said the news was "very, very surprising," as recent health-care announcements from the Pallister government have consolidated services rather than moving them to the private sector.
"It's a decision that's going to be a disaster for so many Manitobans who won't be able to afford this kind of care. They simply won't," he said.
A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said exceptions will be made for specialty rehabilitation services, such as those provided by a spine clinic, specialized neuro-services and amputee services. Those services will continue out of the Health Sciences Centre.
There will also be an exemption for people who cannot afford to pay for services as determined using a "means indicator," the WRHA said.
Real Cloutier, the health authority interim president and CEO, said senior management had to choose what to cut and privatizing physiotherapy and occupational therapy for many patients was the result.
"We had to prioritize and make a choice, so those services will be ending. They'll be moving to the private market. We did think about folks that might not have insured benefits or income to support [the services], so we are retaining the services at Health Sciences Centre," Cloutier said.
The services will also continue at the Misericordia's Easy Street program.
Discussions with unions underway: WRHA
As for the staff this will affect, answers are scarce.
Moroz was at a meeting with union members Tuesday morning when they received the news.
The total number of employees affected is expected to be in the dozens, Moroz said, but what will happen to them is not yet clear.
He said they are currently setting up meetings with health-care system representatives to talk about how the changes affect their collective agreement.
A WRHA spokesperson said discussions with unions have begun, and "follow-up discussions are being scheduled with each individual union already, with the expectation that most will take place within the next week."
Moroz said so far, the health authority employees are primarily concerned about their patients.
He said they are concerned private-sector physiotherapists may not have the specialization needed to deal with certain outpatient needs being dealt with by the WRHA's current physiotherapists.
"I think the two key things are Manitobans might not be able to get the services they need because they can't afford it, and number two is, the people who provide a really, really valuable service here in the public system are not going to be able to provide that service anymore," he said.