Pallister government won't rule out ER closures in Manitoba
'What good is it to have a ton of ERs if you have to wait six hours when you get there?' premier says
The Pallister government has left the door open to closing hospital emergency departments as it works to improve Manitoba's wait times.
Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Tuesday that Manitoba's multiple emergency rooms have done little to slay wait times, which statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show are among the longest wait in the country.
"What good is it to have a ton of ERs if you have to wait six hours when you get there?" he said.
"What good is it to have an ER four minutes away if you have to wait four hours when you get there? I want people to get into an ER, I am not going to run away from that."
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Pallister and Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen were both asked directly whether closing an emergency room was on the table. Neither gave a straight answer.
Goertzen was asked the question directly by physician-turned-Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard during Tuesday's question period, after Gerrard said he heard rumours ER closures were in the works.
Goertzen didn't say yes or no, but chose to chastise Gerrard for not advocating for a better health deal from the federal government.
Pallister went one step further and said other jurisdictions across Canada have better wait times with fewer ERs.
"I would say that Manitobans understand that we have significant challenges to our health-care system. Not least of which would be wait times in ERs," he said.
"Jurisdictions all over the country … have fewer ERs than we do and have wait times that are half or a third as long as ours."
Gerrard said he was concerned by the province's inability to answer the question directly.
"It is going to have a significant impact if you close an emergency room in terms of total numbers and it would be very surprising if that was a choice," he said.
"That is not the ordinary way of shortening a wait at an emergency room."
Longest ER wait time in Canada
Concordia Hospital kept visitors in the ER waiting longer than anywhere else in the country in 2015, with 10 per cent of people — or approximately 2,960 individuals — waiting for 6.8 hours or longer before being assessed by a physician, according to the most recent CIHI report. Winnipeg's other seven emergency rooms don't fare much better.
The government ordered a review into Manitoba's health-care system last year, with the directive to find efficiencies and savings in the system. The preliminary report by KPMG has been delivered, with the final report due next month. Neither will be made public until the budget is released on April 11.
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Pallister said it would be premature to get "into conjecture" about what the report will recommend.
"I think we have to listen to the experts … we will have a look," he said.
Report calls for ER closures
A report released last month, ordered by the former NDP government, recommended emergency departments in three of Winnipeg's community hospitals be closed and converted into urgent-care centres.
There are four community hospitals in Winnipeg: Concordia Hospital, Grace Hospital, Seven Oaks General Hospital and Victoria General Hospital.
Gerrard said closing an emergency department is not the answer.
"I read with great care the Brian Sinclair inquest report, which looked at the function of emergency rooms and made a whole lot of suggestions and not one of those was closing emergency rooms."