Manitoba

Health minister won't guarantee Concordia's urgent care centre will be ready by June

'Planners are absolutely guaranteeing that they are fully committed to the goal,' says Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen, but he stopped short on Thursday of guaranteeing Concordia Hospital's emergency room will be ready for its conversion to an urgent care centre by late June.

'Planners are absolutely guaranteeing that they are fully committed to the goal,' says Cameron Friesen

Hundreds of Winnipeggers rallied outside the Concordia Hospital earlier this month, calling on the government to reverse its decision to close the hospital's ER. The government is now facing questions about whether the deadline to convert the ER into an urgent care facility is achievable. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A week after revealing Concordia Hospital's emergency room will become an urgent care centre, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen stopped short of guaranteeing the facility would be ready for the conversion by late June.

"System planners are absolutely guaranteeing that they are fully committed to the goal and to the timeline, and we will proceed on those timelines," he told reporters at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday.

"We'll have more to share on how we're doing as we go along, but everyone is seized with a sense of urgency in this work."

The province abruptly changed course last week when it decided the ER would be converted into an urgent care centre, instead of a walk-in clinic as originally planned, with an intended June deadline for the conversion.

The change — which will require Concordia to staff a 24-hour urgent care centre — has left hospital staffing needs unclear and employees in limbo, critics say.

On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority cancelled a pair of planned town hall-style meetings that were intended provide clarity for employees.

Concordia Hospital's ER is slated to become an urgent care facility by late June. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Friesen appeared to question Thursday how knowledge of the meetings with Concordia staff became public. 

"When the WRHA indicates that there will be a public forum and then they cancel it, you've raised expectations and then you have let people down and that perplexes me," he said.

"It would be my suspicion that just, in this case, they wanted a little more time to get that messaging right."

More staff meetings planned: WRHA

Friesen said officials have been busy in meetings to determine staffing needs.

Réal Cloutier, the head of the health authority, acknowledged that staff and the public want more information about the hospital's future.

"We do not have timelines to share with the public at this time, but anticipate that we will be in a position to share that information in the coming days," he said in a statement. 

"We will be scheduling more hospital on-site meetings for our staff and rescheduling the all-staff telephone town halls for staff across our region, once we confirm operational and staffing adjustments, and the supporting processes that will accompany those adjustments."

Late June an 'artificial timeline'

Unions representing Concordia employees have demanded answers, saying their members don't know if they'll be needed going forward.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew doesn't think the hospital will be ready.

"We've seen already that there are serious staffing concerns. Many nurses have already applied for jobs in other places, in some cases accepted jobs in other locations, and now they're being asked to reverse those decisions. There's all sorts of implications in terms of vacation, time off and notice," he said Thursday.

"The government is rushing to meet this artificial timeline, just because they want to close the emergency room at the end of June."

Kinew said Friesen's certainty that the emergency room should close is misplaced, when he has no answers about timelines or where staff are going. 

"The only thing that he seems absolutely certain about is that he wants to close an emergency room."

The government's overhaul of Winnipeg's health-care system began two years ago, with the eventual goal of cutting the city's six emergency departments down to three, as part of a consolidation effort intended to improve wait times. 

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.

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