Manitoba

Doctor shortage in Interlake, eastern Manitoba hits emergency rooms

Patients who show up at emergency rooms in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba are regularly being sent to other hospitals.

Nurses are assessing patients as no physicians on duty

Patients who show up at emergency rooms in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba are regularly being sent to another hospital. 2:08

Patients who show up at emergency rooms in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba are regularly being sent to other hospitals. 

At least eight of the ten hospitals in the area don't have enough doctors.

A doctor shortage has hit hospital emergency rooms in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba hard. (CBC)
For many people, that means long trips to get emergency care, and long drives for the more than 250 ambulance workers in the region. 

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union representing emergency medical services workers, said patients have a right to be worried.

"If I was having a heart attack, knowing that minutes count, I would be very concerned," she said. 

Nurses are picking up the slack in the shortage of physicians in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba. (CBC)
​Gawronsky said paramedics often work ten hour shifts with no breaks.

"On any given day off, three-quarters of our medics are being called to come and pick up shifts and try and fill empty spots or voids in the area to try and keep the ambulances running," she said.

Pinawa Mayor Blair Skinner said the doctor shortage has become his highest priority. 

"It's created a lot of anxiety, not knowing when the emergency room is going to be closed," he said. "People have considered moving away from the area because they are concerned about sustainable health care."

MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky. (CBC)
Skinner said the municipality has struck a working group with the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority to attract new doctors.

They are already in talks with two doctors who might set up practice in Pinawa.

But the health authority's CEO, John Stinson, said the shortage is hitting a number of hospitals. 

"We have been in situations where we have eight of 10 hospital ERs on redirection," he said, meaning emergency patients from places like Pine Falls and Pinawa are redirected to the Selkirk and District General Hospital.

Stinson is candid about the problem. 

Pinawa Mayor Blair Skinner said people are so concerned about sustainable health care they are thinking of moving away. (CBC)
"It is unbelievably stressful for our staff. It is unbelievably stressful for our community members," he said. 

It's also having an impact on the Selkirk hospital taking in all the re-routed patients. 

"It is a huge strain on the Selkirk staff, on the Selkirk physicians, the nurses, the housekeeping and everybody," Stinson said. 

People In Beausejour are the lucky ones this week. They have a doctor, but there are 1,200 people. 

Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority CEO John Stinson said eight out of 10 hospitals are forced to divert patients to other hospitals because of the shortage of physicians. (CBC)
The health authority's Stinson said officials hope to have a handle on the issue within the next six weeks.

Whether the long term issues will be resolved by then, he said, is far less clear. 

"At the end of the day, we still need to have the appropriate physician contingent to provide support for our hospitals. And we don't have that right now."