Manitoba

Concordia Hospital's ER will become urgent care centre as of Monday, province says

Concordia's emergency room is closing ahead of schedule because the hospital doesn't have enough staff to sustain emergency care any longer, it was announced on Wednesday. 

Seven Oaks Hospital's emergency room conversion still on track for September

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health says Concordia Hospital's emergency room will become an urgent care centre on June 3. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The emergency room at Winnipeg's Concordia Hospital is closing ahead of schedule because the facility doesn't have enough staff to sustain emergency care any longer, it was announced on Wednesday. 

Yet health officials insist they have enough employees to run a 24-hour urgent care centre in its place as soon as Monday.

At a press conference Wednesday, the province moved up the expected timeline of the transformation of Concordia's emergency room into an urgent care centre by three weeks — despite unions and hospital staff questioning if the conversion, announced earlier this month, would even be ready by late June. 

"I'm shocked," Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses' Union, told reporters after the unexpected decision came down.

'No hope' Concordia will be ready 

"I did not really hold out hope that we were going to be able to get everything we need to do done by June 24. I have no hope that in five days we're going to have any semblance of a plan."

Health officials gathered Concordia staff during the lunch hour on Wednesday to break the news.

They found out two weeks ago that the province would convert the ER into an urgent care centre, instead of the walk-in clinic prescribed when Winnipeg's hospital reorganization plan took effect in 2017.

The province changed course after bringing Dr. David Peachey back to conduct a "quality assurance assessment" of the health-care overhaul that relied heavily on his advice.

Real Cloutier, chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said staffing levels at the hospital's emergency department have already fallen to urgent care levels.

"It makes sense that we actually make that transition sooner than later," he said.

An urgent care facility treats patients with urgent but non-life-threatening issues.

Wednesday's announcement provided little clarity on the status of employees' jobs at the hospital. Some staff transferred from Concordia, or had already left, because they weren't needed at a walk-in clinic — and now they may have work.

Around 250 protesters gathered outside Seven Oaks Hospital to criticize the decision to close their emergency room. Later in the day, the government repeated that the hospital's emergency department would be converted into an urgent care facility by September. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Dr. Ainslie Mihalchuk, chief medical officer at Concordia, said it isn't surprising employees went elsewhere.

"I think some of this is a natural consequence of an inevitable change within the department," she said.

"Certainly, it is a quick pivot in a completely different direction. But we are hearing that lots of the staff who previously worked at Concordia are excited about the opportunity to come back," Mihalchuk said.

She said the hospital is sufficiently staffed for the coming weeks, but will need to recruit the employees who left — and others — back to Concordia. 

'Unprecedented speed'

Mihalchuk acknowledged that five days of notice that an ER is closing isn't much time.

"It is happening very quickly and perhaps [at] an unprecedented speed," she said, "but at the same time I think the intentions are to ensure that there's a solid staffing complement at Concordia as soon as we possibly can." 

Due to the short timespan, Concordia will maintain its critical care unit and keep acute beds until late June, as backup for patients who don't realize the ER has closed. 

Officials could not say how many beds will be required at Concordia's urgent care centre, which would determine staffing levels.

"At the end of the day, it is a lower number of nurses and staff that's required to run an urgent care. The skill set of that staff, particularly nurses, is higher because of the complement that's required to be able to manage serious conditions that might present," Mihalchuk said.

It's very frustrating for these health-care staff in those departments, because basically their life is in the WRHA's hands- Darlene Jackson, Manitoba Nurses Union

Both Cloutier and Brock Wright, chief executive officer of Shared Health, acknowledged there was a "difference of opinion" on the best course for Concordia's future, until the urgent care was decided.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the government has not been afraid to make changes to the plan when it is warranted.

He said he was confident it was both safe and realistic for the conversion to take effect next week. 

Unions have been soundly critical of the province speeding up the timeline, when their members don't know if they'll be needed. 

5 days of notice

"They have no idea what is happening in their facility," Jackson said.

"It's very frustrating for these health-care staff in those departments, because basically their life is in the WRHA's hands."

Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, is skeptical a fully functioning urgent care facility could be in place in under a week. 

He said "it's about time" the WRHA finally acknowledged its overhaul is resulting in staff shortages. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew didn't mince words in his criticism of the government, saying he called on Cameron Friesen to resign as health minister because of his botched handling of the health-care overhaul. 

"We got more notice about Game 1 of the NBA Finals than this government has just given us about the closure of an emergency room in Winnipeg," he said.

Protesters at Wednesday's noon-hour rally were disappointed to learn later in the day that the closure of the Seven Oaks ER remains on track. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Kinew said he'd be disturbed if the closure was rushed so the government could call an election once the ER's closure was already completed.

Health officials say the other facilities expecting Concordia staff who decide to stay at the hospital after the urgent care decision was made will still be allowed to fill those openings.

Before Wednesday's announcement, around 250 protesters rallied on the sidewalk outside Seven Oaks Hospital to protest the closure of that emergency room, which health officials confirmed later in the day was on track to become an urgent care centre in September. 

The protesters carried signs and flags and blew whistles, as passing drivers honked their approval.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Cameron Maclean

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