Manitoba

Manitoba eye care in 'dire risk' if urgent centre closes: doctors

Manitoba eye doctors want the Pallister government to reconsider its decision to close the Misericordia Urgent Care Centre.

Urgent care centre to become intravenous clinic as part of health-care revamp

The Manitoba government is closing Misericordia Health Centre's 24-hour urgent care centre this fall. Eye doctors say that'll put patients with eye emergencies at risk. (Buhler Eye Care Centre at Misericordia Health Centre/YouTube)

Manitoba eye doctors want the Pallister government to reconsider its decision to close the Misericordia Urgent Care Centre.

The Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says the closure, at the end of September, will leave patients with eye emergencies in jeopardy.

"If they're not treated urgently, the patient can lose vision and that can be irreversible vision loss," said Jennifer Rahman, chair of the organization.

Rahman, along with 26 other eye doctors, sent a letter to Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Monday morning asking to keep the centre open.

The letter says patients with eye problems have expressed "great anxiety and concern" over where they will go during an emergency once the centre closes.

The Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says the closure means patients will have to wait in emergency rooms for urgent care or see their family doctor. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"The future of eye care services in Manitoba is at dire risk without the support and presence of an active Urgent Care at Misericordia Health Centre," the letter says.

Rahman described the centre as a high-end walk-in clinic. Attending doctors have a lot of experience with critical eye issues, because they deal with them frequently, she said. 

She said of the 39,000 patient visits per year to the urgent care centre, over 4,500 are eye emergencies.

Closure will mean longer waits: doctor

She said once it's closed, patients will have to go to an emergency room to have their urgent eye issues dealt with and won't receive as fast or specific care as they do at the Misericordia.

"They're going to be put down on the list and wait much longer for their assessment."

The Pallister government announced it April it was closing the Misericordia Health Centre's 24-hour urgent care centre. It plans to convert the centre into a community intravenous clinic.

Patients not at risk: WRHA

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said it's in talks with the Misericordia Health Centre to see if patients will be able to go directly to the Buhler Eye Care Centre inside the centre when urgent care shuts down but so far no agreement has been reached.

Patients will have to visit one of Winnipeg's three remaining emergency rooms for care or one of two urgent health centres but no ophthalmologist will be on site, said Dr. Brock Wright, the health authority's vice president and chief medical officer.

Wright said ER doctors are capable of treating patients with many eye emergencies but if there is a serious traumatic issue, a specialist would have to be called in.

Dr. Brock Wright said patient safety won't be compromised by the closure of the urgent health care centre. (CBC)

"People can have scratches on their eyeball and an emergency physician is more than capable of looking after those kind of issues," he said.

"I mean we're not going to implement a plan that's going to put patients at any risk at all."

A spokesperson for Goertzen declined to comment citing an election law that prevents the government from advertising or promoting programs during an election.

A byelection campaign is currently under way in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood.​ 

Full coverage of health cuts in Manitoba

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca