Manitoba

Closure of women's health centre 'a great disservice,' patients say

Patients of Winnipeg's Mature Women’s Health Centre are speaking out in the wake of news it is slated to close in October.

Doctor predicts shuttering clinic will cost province more over time

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says women will still be offered the same services they get today from the Mature Women's Health Clinic, but they will be "redirected" instead of under one roof. (iStock)

Heather Patterson burst into tears following her first appointment at Winnipeg's Mature Women's Health Centre.

Contending with serious post-hysterectomy complications and sleeping little, Patterson, 61, said the staff at the clinic invested hours in working up her full medical history in their effort to start getting to the bottom of her symptoms, ones her family doctor was having trouble figuring out.

"'What's the matter,'" she says a nurse asked after seeing her cry. "Finally, somebody gets it," Patterson responded.

Now, she and others are speaking up in the wake of news the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority plans to close the Victoria General Hospital-based clinic in October. Paterson's been a patient there for seven years. 

The WRHA is trying to find $83 million in savings as part of a mandate handed down by the provincial government.

I think that if they're only saving $160,000, then they're doing a great disservice to Manitoba women.- Heather Patterson, patient

The centre, which deals with gynecological issues and menopause transition and other women's services, sees about 5,000 patients a year. The WRHA says it will save $163,000 by shutting the clinic down – a figure Paterson suggests is peanuts in a health care budget of more than $6 billion.

"I think that if they're only saving $160,000, then they're doing a great disservice to Manitoba women," Patterson told CBC News. "They're cutting their nose off to save their faces."

Patterson praised the "holistic" services clinic staff provides under one roof. She described them as "essential" for the physical and mental health of women who are patients there.  

"I can't say enough good things about them in terms of the expertise and the interdisciplinary good care," Patterson said.

Carol-Ann Borody-Siemens told CBC News her family doctor referred her to the clinic after menopausal symptoms threw her health and quality of life "out of whack." She said the treatment she's received — hormone replacement therapy — has got her back on track.

"What I got from the mature women's centre was the big picture and the qualifiers — they know what to look for if I'm having problems, which I'm not. I feel very confident. My health has improved and my quality of life is right back where it was before this all happened," Borody-Siemens said.

She said her GP is a great doctor, but she can't be sure how current the family physician is with available treatments such as HRT. Clinic staff is also extremely responsive and there's no issues with wait times, she said.

"I certainly won't get the response from [my GP] as I get from the clinic. If I have a problem … they're dealing with it right away," Borody-Siemens said.

She suggested it would be one thing if there were duplicate services in the WRHA, but there aren't. "Nobody in the city is doing this," she said.

It kind of feels like sending them into the abyss.- Dr. Rebecca Renkas

As a result of the closure, Dr. Rebecca Renkas will be out of a job.

And while she's confident she will find other work, her first concern is for the women the clinic serves. Planning their care and follow-up treatment is a cornerstone of why the clinic works, she said. 

"It kind of feels like sending them into the abyss," said Renkas. "From a physician-patient perspective, that feels awful. And from a patient-safety perspective that doesn't' feel good either because you worry that a patient might fall through the cracks.
Women with complex cases will be offered services at Winnipeg's Health Science Centre. That's not sitting well with all of them. (Media for Medical/UIG/Getty)

"I know their stories, I know their treatment plans, and I want to follow them up. And at this point, I can't." 

Renkas said not all GPs are up to date on current science and practices, and some aren't comfortable dealing with the medical issues women, like Patterson, might bring to them. 

She contends the clinic saves the province money by diverting procedures away from operating rooms and providing preventative health care to patients. Over time, Renkas predicts shuttering the clinic will cost the province more. 

'"The treatments that are available and the specialized expertise that have been provided will continue to exist and will be available to … existing patients of the clinic as well as the women who need the services in the future -  Lynda Tjaden, WRHA program director for women's health

The WRHA's program director for women's health said that while the clinic may be closing, the services it currently offers will remain.

"The treatments that are available and the specialized expertise that have been provided will continue to exist and will be available to … existing patients of the clinic as well as the women who need the services in the future, Lynda Tjaden said.

After the closure, slated for Oct. 1, current patients may go back to their GPs with a treatment plan, Tjaden said. Others might be referred to a community gynecologist. Those with complex care needs will be referred to clinical specialists at Health Science Centre, Manitoba's largest hospital, she said.

"The level of clinical expertise for those really complex clients will continue."

She said she doesn't expect wait times for the services will increase as a result of the closure. One of the goals of the transition is to provide closer-to-home services to women as is possible.

Patterson said she believes moving some of the service to HSC may make it less accessible because parking in the area is "a nightmare." 

Full coverage of health cuts in Manitoba