A health-care task force put together by a group of western Manitoba municipalities has recommended closing four emergency rooms in the region and replacing them with urgent care centres.
The recommendations, were first released at a public meeting in Deloraine, Man., on Monday night, would see the closure of emergency rooms in the towns of Boissevain, Deloraine, Killarney and Melita.
The plan needs to be approved by the nine member municipalities and then by the provincial government before any changes are made.
"The one thing that was extremely clear was that the communities could no longer be silos but had to work together on a regional basis," said Gordon Daman, the task force's consultant.
The plan would provide the region with flexibility to better place staff where they are needed the most, Daman said.
"The care that's taking place in a number of hospitals right now would be considered urgent care in nature," he said.
Current care models in some hospitals were developed more than 50 years ago and don't take new technology or practices into account, Daman said.
The report recommends some hospitals, like Melita's, have urgent care centres open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Others, like Killarney's, would provide urgent care around the clock.
"Urgent care would probably be a longer term, stable approach to ensuring there would be access to care for folks in the southwest," said Daman, adding that many people gave positive feedback at the task force's first public meeting in Deloraine, even though it could mean big changes to care in some towns.
Daman expects changes will be made to the report as a result of community meetings being held across the region.
The task force also calls for the creation of a mobile nurse practitioner unit that would make house calls to people in the region, similar to a program currently operating in the Southern Health region.
The proposal follows the announcement by the province earlier this year of a 10-year plan that would see 23 low-volume ambulance garages slated for closure in an overhaul meant to create a more integrated, responsive and reliable emergency medical services system.
Worry in Boissevain
Boissevain, Man., a town about 220 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, is slated as one of the communities slated to lose its EMS station. The prospect of changes at the hospital as well had some residents worried. At times, the town has had to share emergency room coverage with Deloraine and Killarney.
"It was pretty shocking and just kind of ridiculous," said Misheyla Iwasiuk, program coordinator at Prairie Partners, which assists people with disabilities, upon hearing of the changes to the EMS program. "I couldn't wrap my head around it."
Iwasiuk is still waiting for more information on the task force's proposal but worries it could lead to longer waits and access to care if people have to wait for an ambulance and then travel out of town for care.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, said she wasn't aware the proposal was in the works until it hit the news on Tuesday.
"It's a surprise and it's a shock," she said, adding that she's still waiting to hear if any jobs could be affected.
"What happens when you have a real emergency happening and you don't have an ER and you don't have ambulance station there. What is going to happen?," said Gawronsky.
The proposal also comes after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority set a plan in motion to close three emergency departments, leaving Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital with the only emergency rooms in the city.
Along with the meeting on the western Manitoba plan in Deloraine on Monday, meetings are being held in Cartwright and Killarney on Tuesday, in Melita on Monday and in Boissevain on Tuesday.