Manitoba

Province changes course, will convert Concordia ER into urgent care centre

The Manitoba government is changing course on its plan for Winnipeg's Concordia Hospital, saying it will convert the hospital's emergency room into an urgent care centre — instead of shutting it down in June and converting part of the space into a walk-in clinic, as previously planned.

Health minister says planned conversion will happen in 4-6 weeks

Dozens of people rallied at the Concordia Hospital on May 8 in the hopes of reversing the government's decision to close the hospital's emergency room. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The emergency department at Concordia Hospital will not be saved, the province revealed Thursday, but the government tried to offer some solace to residents in northeast Winnipeg anyway.

While the end of 24-hour emergency care remains slated for late June, the government will replace the department with an urgent care facility to handle more serious medical issues, rather than the walk-in clinic originally pegged as the ER's successor.

The province will still convert the ER at Seven Oaks Hospital into an urgent care centre in September as planned.

"In order for the plan to work, it must be adaptable," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said. "We are showing today that we can adapt to make the change that is necessary."

Province backtracks

The government's decision amounts to a retreat for the Progressive Conservatives, returning to the recommendation of three emergency departments and three urgent care facilities it ignored when Winnipeg's hospital reorganization plan took force two years ago.

That idea was pitched by Dr. David Peachey, the consultant whose advice formed the basis of the health-care overhaul the government decided to take on.

The province re-hired him a few weeks ago to assess how the transformation was going.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the Progressive Conservative government is willing to adjust its transformation of Winnipeg's health-care system in order to get results. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Friesen announced on Thursday the government would follow all of Peachey's recommendations.

The health minister said it became abundantly clear in recent months the planned walk-in clinic was not suitable for the care required at Concordia. He acknowledged the hospital's orthopedic surgeons wanted assurance they'd have proper backup if something goes wrong during procedures.

"We had important questions to answer about what medical support would look like in that model for the surgical activities that take place at that hospital," Friesen said.

He also announced further changes to the health-care system will be on pause for six months, as the responsibility of system planning would shift to the province's Shared Health department.

Friesen also suggested that Shared Health oversee a risk assessment of the entire Winnipeg health-care region and that a task force be struck to respond to the concern of nurses. 

The changes to the emergency rooms at Concordia and Seven Oaks are part of the second phase of the province's health-care overhaul, intended to cut wait times and find efficiencies by consolidating emergency care in Winnipeg in three locations — Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace — down from six.

Seven Oaks timeline in question

Urgent care centres are now scheduled for Victoria, Seven Oaks and Concordia. 

Friesen stressed the transformation is working, even if it's being amended on the fly.

"Today should be a signal to health-care workers that we're listening and we're responding to the concerns that we're hearing."

He's convinced the emergency department at St. Boniface Hospital, under renovation, is on track to absorb the expected influx of patients once Concordia's ER closes.

Despite sustained criticism from residents of northeast Winnipeg, the emergency room at Concordia Hospital will still close around late June. It will now be converted into an urgent care clinic rather than a walk-in clinic. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

When asked about the expected September closure date for the Seven Oaks ER, the minister said Peachey recommended the timing will be based on a further risk assessment.

"If the timelines are challenging, we will adjust the timelines to be able to make the right choice."

Some of those who lobbied to keep Concordia's ER open panned the government's change of course on Thursday.

"It's hard not to see the politics in this," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

It's almost disrespectful to just expect nurses to move at will of this government and of this plan- Darlene Jackson, Manitoba Nurses Union

"Right before an expected election call, the government's pulling a pretty significant turnaround on this health-care plan, and it seems like they're just trying to defuse and do damage control."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont isn't convinced the amended plan is any better.

"The biggest frustration here is that I don't understand why they're not listening to all the people who are telling them that the plan isn't working."

Claudette Wills, a volunteer with the Save the Concordia ER committee, said an urgent care facility is better than a walk-in connected care clinic, but she otherwise wasn't enthused by the province's revised plan for the hospital. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Claudette Wills, a volunteer on the Save the Concordia ER committee, wasn't taking much solace Thursday in a urgent care facility replacing the emergency department she's fought for.

"It's a somewhat positive thing, but itty-bitty. We wanted a fully functioning ER, and that's not what we're going to get," Wills said.

"Will it be fully functioning with staff and doctors and people to look at [you]? Or will it be like it is now, where you go in and you wait and there's nobody there?"

Staffing in flux

Unions who represent health-care workers at Concordia say staffing is in disarray over the change. Some employees got layoff notices because they were told the facility would become walk-in care.

"It's almost disrespectful to just expect nurses to move at will of this government and of this plan, without any thought," said Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union.

"They may have issues, they may have changed plans to accommodate the move, and now we have to go back," Jackson added, saying she questions if they can appropriately staff an urgent care centre.

Some workers have already moved on, said Debbie Boissonneault, who represents some of Concordia's health-care staff through the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

She said 23 support workers were given layoff notices last December in preparation for the conversion. 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said it fully supports the changes that Peachey introduced. 

"What has been most important throughout this process is that for the sake of our community, our patients and our staff, that we get it right," a spokesperson said in an email.

"In making these changes, we are doing just that."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese reports from the Manitoba Legislature for CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Bartley Kives

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