'I'm terrified': Melita residents face month-long E.R. closure over holidays

A Melita, Man. resident says she's terrified of what could happen during the looming month-long closure of emergency room services in her community that will stretch from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14.

The Melita Health Care Centre will be shutting down its emergency room from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14

Starting Dec. 14, Melita residents will be without an emergency room for a whole month. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A Melita, Man. resident says she's terrified of what could happen during the looming month-long closure of emergency room services in her community that will stretch from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14.

Currently, the town of roughly 1,000 people has only one doctor on call. The Melita Health Centre will be shutting down its E.R. periodically throughout the season, including a closure that began on Wednesday and will extend until Nov. 25, and another that will last from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

"Am I mad at what's going on? No. I'm terrified," said Rose Bugg, who has lived in Melita for around 30 years. Her husband has heart problems, and she said she's worried about a flare-up during the long period without an emergency room.

"There's a lot of people here in this small community. We're all friends, family, whatever," said Bugg. "Anything could happen and we have no doctor."

'Doctors don't want to come to small communities'

When the ER is closed, Melita residents have to rely on ambulance services to get them to centres that can be hours away. Bugg said those long drives can cost sick or injured people precious time they might not have.

During one recent closure, Bugg said an ambulance got lost and went the wrong way on its way to an injured woman on a farm.

Bugg said the community hasn't been able to hold on to more than one doctor, and said she wants to see the region's Prairie Mountain Health Authority do more to entice doctors to rural areas, including her own.

"We just can't get committed doctors to stay," Bugg said. "We're in trouble. We're in big trouble."

"We hear things like, 'Doctors don't want to come to small communities.' Again, I've been here 30 years, I've raised a family, I have grandchildren. It's an awesome small community."

Long-standing, widespread problem, health authority says

Penny Gilson, the CEO of the Prairie Mountain Health Authority, said the issue isn't unique to Melita or southwestern Manitoba. It's an issue across rural Canada and has been for several years, she said.

Emergency medical services providers throughout the province are being trained to offer more thorough services in ambulances, Gilson said, and the authority has spent the past few years developing a 24/7 in-house EMS station for Melita specifically.

The authority also gets to choose placements for graduates of the International Medical Graduate Program, which Gilson said is done by assessing need and finding top-priority spots for doctors.

But the authority can't compel family practice graduates from within the province to choose to practice in rural areas, and many of them don't want to, Gilson said.

"If we had physicians who were interested in practicing in Melita today, we absolutely would be placing them there," Gilson said.

Gilson said doctor pay isn't the problem.

"It is about lifestyle. It is about where they want to live, where they want to raise families. A lot of them have spouses that can't get employment in rural Manitoba," she said. "There's a whole host of factors that come into play."

Gilson said communities are also free to market themselves to doctors-to-be and the authority offers them information to do so.

"We've got to work with communities," she said. "We will promote practice opportunities, we will work with them to look at what types of practice models are sustainable, we'll work with the providers."

"The communities ultimately sell their communities as well."