Manitoba

'There were a lot of boos': 500 pack hall in Grandview, Man., to discuss EMS overhaul

A meeting in Grandview, Man., this week organized by the town's doctors to discuss planned changes to the province's EMS system attracted a third of the town's population, many angry with the province's lack of consultations with the community beforehand.

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An image tweeted out by Manitoba Liberal MLA Dr. Jon Gerrard shows a packed hall at a meeting in Grandview, Man., this week. (Twitter/Jon Gerrard)

A meeting in Grandview, Man., this week organized by the town's doctors to discuss planned changes to the province's EMS system attracted a third of the town's population, many angry with the province's lack of consultations with the community beforehand. 

"It was full to the gills," said Dr. Jim Rae, one of three doctors who organized the Tuesday night meeting in the town about 290 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. "There were people coming out the doors."

Rae said 300 chairs had been put out in the town's community centre for residents to come out and discuss concerns about a plan to overhaul the province's ambulance service announced by Manitoba health minister Kelvin Goertzen earlier this summer. But between 400 and 500 residents of the town of 1,500 showed up.

"I have to say I was surprised," Rae said, adding that people from not only Grandview came out, but those from as far away as Dauphin, Roblin and Rossburn. 

'There were a lot of boos'

Liberal MLA Dr. Jon Gerrard was among those in attendance as was the region's Progressive Conservative MLA Brad Michaleski, who Rae said tried to explain the motives behind the changes. 

"There were a lot of boos," he said, adding that many were hoping he would pledge his support for Grandview. 

The province announced a 10-year plan to overhaul the province's EMS system this summer, with 23 low-volume ambulance garages slated for closure, while others will be moved and five new stations built. 

The changes were recommended in a report commissioned by the then-governing NDP in 2013 to create a more integrated, responsive and reliable EMS system, while reducing reliance on on-call and part-time paramedics. 

The Paramedics Association of Manitoba supports the overhaul, which the province said won't take effect until enough full-time medics are hired and in place. 

"The uncertainty that accompanies this proposed change is understandable," said president Eric Glass in an emailed op-ed to CBC News. "But the uncertainty of being able to provide predictable and professional paramedic service to rural Manitobans without this reform should be cause for even greater concern."

Grandview is one of the stations slated for closure. The plan calls for the town and surrounding region to be serviced by EMS in Gilbert Plains. 

Rae said many at the meeting on Tuesday, and at a subsequent meeting in Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation on Wednesday expressed concern over how long it could take rural residents to get to hospital.

Lack of consultation

He also said it could mean patients are instead taken to hospitals in Dauphin or Roblin — closer to the home bases for the new paramedics — leaving less reliance on the Grandview hospital, which is fully staffed. 

"There's concern about getting [the] rural population to this hospital," said Rae. 

But the primary concern, he said, seemed to be over the lack of consultation beforehand.

"The Conservative government made a big deal about being consultative before the got into office," he said. "They've made some major changes without asking the people who are going to be affected." 

He said a petition has now been started in the town calling on the provincial government to hold off on making any changes until communities are properly consulted, something the province said was done. 

As of Thurday afternoon, more than 1,000 signatures had been collected, Rae said, with plans to turn it over to the health minister at the end of the month. 

Meanwhile, Rae said a concerned citizens committee has now been formed in Grandview to discuss the next steps. 

"I'm hoping that the minister of health will come out and publicly state that there won't be any changes until people are OK with it," he said. "But if he doesn't, I think we will be looking at mobilizing direct and public actions." 

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