Doctors pen letter pleading for Misericordia urgent care centre to stay open

Doctors at Misericordia Health Centre are urging the Manitoba government to reverse its decision to close the facility's urgent care centre.

Physicians concerned about access to health care for some of Winnipeg's most vulnerable patients

Misericordia Health Centre's 24-hour urgent care centre is being closed by the Manitoba government. (Google Street View)

Doctors at Misericordia Health Centre are urging the Manitoba government to reverse its decision to close the facility's urgent care centre.

"The closure of Misericordia will be a huge loss for some of the most needy of Winnipeg's population and as a physician team we are concerned about the equitable access to health care for our vulnerable patients," reads an open letter sent to the provincial health minister and local politicians.

The government and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced in early April that a major overhaul of the city's health-care system would see half of Winnipeg's emergency departments shut down with some converted to 24/7 urgent care centres.

Meanwhile, the existing 24-hour centre at Misericordia will be closed and converted to a community intravenous therapy clinic.

The changes are to take place over the next few years.

The open letter from doctors says Misercordia's urgent care centre sees about 39,000 patients annually.

Of that number, approximately 11,000 visits are from people who live in the downtown and Point Douglas neighbourhoods — communities "comprised of many of the city's impoverished, marginalized and disenfranchised; people who have little voice in the political decision-making process."
A small group of people gather around NDP MLA Matt Wiebe at the Manitoba Legislature Tuesday to deliver a petition with more than 5,000 signatures to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, asking the government to reverse its plan to close Concordia Hospital's emergency room. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC )

"Our concern as physicians is if we're closed at Misericordia, these people have few options," said Dr. Cal Bergen, who wrote the letter on behalf of 23 physicians.

Once the changes are made to the health care system, the only urgent care centres will be located at Victoria Hospital (more than eight kilometres away) and Seven Oaks Hospital (nearly 10 kilometres away).

Many patients from the inner city don't have transportation to go beyond the Misericordia area.

Nearly two dozen Manitoba doctors are speaking out against the Progressive Conservatives' decision to close the Misercordia's Urgent Care Centre. They've written an open letter asking the government to reverse its decision. 2:16

"Our concern is people will either call an ambulance, which of course, that's huge implications on the system," Bergen said, adding that another option is that people just won't go to the hospital at all.

"Our concern is that they will just not seek medical attention and that would have devastating results on personal health."

In our opinion, there is certainly no patient care justification for this closure.- Cal Bergen

He doesn't totally disagree with the health-system revamp. In fact, he agrees there is a good case for closing some emergency rooms, with precedents set in other regions of the country.

"The centralization of emergency room care makes a load of sense," he said.

"But what we fail to understand is the decision to close an urgent care centre when that is the model that is being moved to."

Misericordia consistently receives the highest patient satisfaction ratings in the city while operating under budget, Bergen noted, adding the other urgent care centres that are set to open will be modelled on Misericordia.

"And yet Misericordia is being closed. At this point, we're having a difficult time understanding what the rationale might be," he said.

In many ways, Misericordia functions as an emergency centre for the city but at half the cost of a full emergency centre, the open letter states.

"Given the above facts it is difficult to understand the rationale for the decision to close Misericordia urgent care. In our opinion, there is certainly no patient care justification for this closure."

Bergen said he hopes to hear back from Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen.

Goertzen was unavailable for an interview Tuesday but defended the government's plan to close ERs during question period saying that Manitoba has some of the longest wait times in Canada and noted that other major Canadian cities, some larger than Winnipeg, have fewer ERs.

The health minister responded directly to the letter from the doctors, telling the legislature the WRHA does have a plan to help people in the centre of the city get non-emergency medical attention.

"There are already efforts by the WRHA to ensure that those who do need primary care are linked up with that primary care in places throughout the downtown of Winnipeg," Goertzen said.

Petition for Concordia ER

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling on Goertzen to reverse the decision to close Concordia Hospital's emergency room.

A group representing families from northeast Winnipeg delivered the petition Tuesday afternoon.

Petitions against the closure of Concordia Hospital's emergency room sit in Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen's office. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Claudette Wills lives in Transcona and helped collect signatures. She said the decision doesn't make sense and that's part of what they heard on the doorsteps. 

"About four years ago, Concordia Hospital was revamped and re-equipped to the tune of $9 million. And that's going to be down, closed and finished? It just doesn't seem right."

"We urge the health minister to listen to these families and rethink this disastrous decision," NDP health critic Matt Wiebe said.

Karen Huggins, a nurse at Concordia who also gathered signatures for the petition says the closure of the ER will put pressure on the remaining three facilities once the changes are in place.

"So, right now at Concordia we see about 30 to 32,000 people a year. Add those people to the wait times at the other facilities. The three ER's that are available," Huggins says.
A group of people concerned about the closure of the Concordia emergency room delivered a petition today to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen. 2:08

An aide to the health minister accepted the hundreds of pages of signed petitions and offered the group a meeting with Goertzen later that day, but they weren't available to meet at that time.

A spokesperson for the health minister sent a statement later Tuesday afternoon.

"It's unfortunate that the group was unable to accept our offer of a meeting with Minister Goertzen today. We have and will continue to demonstrate our willingness to listen to members of the community and look forward to meeting with this group at a time that is more convenient for them," wrote the spokesperson.

Concordia Hospital's ER sees about 30,000 visits every year, according to the WRHA. The closure comes on the heels of other cuts to northeast Winnipeg health services, including:

  • Cancelling the Concordia Hospital home team.
  • Closing the closest Quick Care Clinic to northeast Winnipeg.
  • Cancelling proposed Quick Care Clinics for Transcona and East Kildonan.

"To close the Concordia ER without any replacement services and after cancelling so many other services defies common sense and increases stress for families," Wiebe said.

'Both facilities are struggling': WHRA 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is trying to ease the concerns of medical staff from both facilities. 

Vice-president and chief medical officer Brock Wright said he appreciates that this is a difficult time.

"Misericordia Hospital, much like Concordia Hospital — both facilities are struggling to understand the rationale for that decision and they have a lot of questions. We've actually gone out to both of those facilities and have held a number of forums with staff."

Wright said he expects to have a detailed plan rolled out to staff soon to ensure a smooth transition. But one of the results will be that thousands more patients will migrate to the Health Sciences Centre when the Misericordia's urgent care centre closes.

Wright says 11,400 patients in the area around the Misericordia use the facility every year. Those patients will benefit from programs HSC has already set up for the thousands of patients it sees yearly in that part of the city, he said.

"The Health Sciences Centre currently sees about 26,000 patients from the downtown, Point Douglas area — from that inner-city area — and they've established a number of programs and interventions to assist that vulnerable patient population."

Wright said the approximately 24,000 others who annually go to the Misericordia for urgent care, many of whom cross the city to do so, will likely go to Victoria or Seven Oaks hospitals where urgent care centres will open. 

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