Cut in number of flu shot clinics a bad way to keep Manitobans healthy

A reduction in flu shot clinics in Winnipeg this year offers a perfect example of how health-care cuts and changes affect average citizens' basic health-care needs, Joanne Seiff says.

Reduction in clinics an example of how health-care changes will affect average Manitobans, says Joanne Seiff

There are fewer clinics where Winnipeggers can get their flu shot this year than there have been in the past. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Since 2009, when we moved to Canada, my family has heeded the call: we get our flu shots. We've walked to our local community centre. We waited in the line, and volunteered for our needle. It made sense to get the flu shot.

Even before we had kids, my husband and I thought it was an important step for public health safety. It bolstered my faith in the system when I saw the nurses seconded to do this important work. It's for everyone's well-being.

It was no small thing, getting the flu shot some years. We'd push our double stroller, with twin infants or toddlers, through the narrow door and lineup. We each held a squirming, very unhappy kid — but we felt it was more than worth it. We passed around countless viruses for years of infancy, toddlers and preschool. Given our other health challenges, I thought, at least we'd dodged the flu.

All this ran through my mind as I noticed this year that the community centre didn't have the dates of the flu shot clinic posted on its marquee. I heard on the radio that flu shot rates were down. Our health minister, Kelvin Goertzen, urged us to get our shots.

OK, we'll grab the six year olds, exhausted after school, walk down there together, get the shot, and take them out for dinner as a bribe. Then we'll shove them into bed — late.

5 flu shot clinics in Winnipeg, down from 12

I called the community centre. "Oh," they said. "For some reason, we're not having a flu shot clinic this year."

It didn't take rocket science to guess why. Remember how Brian Pallister's government insisted that the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority cut millions in spending?

Check out the list of flu shot clinic locations for Winnipeg — there are only five this year. Pharmacists administer three more that aren't run by the WRHA.

This compares with 12 locations in 2015.

Instead, we're encouraged to get our shots at pharmacies, walk-in clinics or doctors' offices. Apparently, pharmacies aren't supposed to give these shots to kids under seven.

On Oct. 16, my twins just had a very long appointment at the pediatrician's office. We were there for two hours. Both kids were examined and received three referrals. No one offered us the flu shot, or encouraged us to get it. 

On the same day, I saw a specialist — a follow-up appointment since I'd had Lyme disease. No one there suggested a flu shot either.

If you faced health struggles and went to the doctor frequently, you might think that every medical office in the WRHA would offer this yearly vaccine each October as a matter of course.

However, it's no secret that the health system is currently in upheaval.

Even recent information gathering about health care has been problematic. 

A PC-sponsored teleconference even called my home randomly to allow me to ask my questions about health care. This took place while I put kids to bed, with no prior notice. This government appears to gather information through this sort of haphazard luck of the draw. It certainly doesn't allow any citizen with young children (for instance) to adequately voice their concerns.

Pallister's survey about health care premiums also presented its questions in a skewed way. Any social scientist would tell you that if you bias the questions towards the answer you want to receive, (that we must pay premiums for health care?) it's not a good survey of your constituents' actual interests and concerns.

No common sense in health-care changes

Overall, Manitoba has done a substandard job of providing decent health care to its citizens. We can evaluate this using simple measures, like ER wait times.

The service cuts and reshuffling that the PC proposed are supposed to fix ER wait times, but cutting services doesn't sound like it will fix any of these problems. If there are improvements, it's likely to be an accidental side effect.

The Victoria General Hospital emergency room was converted to an urgent care centre earlier this month. The province's health-care changes are supposed to improve ER wait times, but Joanne Seiff doubts cutting services will address the problem. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Common-sense, low-budget triage systems at emergency rooms? Efforts toward more effective, faster care? Asking local nurses, patients, doctors, and other health-care workers how they themselves could improve care? It sounds like none of these most obvious solutions happened.

Instead, we spend millions on moving around ERs and urgent care — cutting jobs just to rehire people elsewhere. It's a massive game of musical chairs, not a thoughtful effort at system overhaul.

The reduction in WRHA flu shot clinics this year offers a perfect example of how these cuts affect average citizens' basic health-care needs. We sought a quick assembly-line dose of vaccine in the neighbourhood. Now, we need to make special efforts to pursue a shot for our children that may not even be available when we get to the walk-in clinic or doctor's office.

Focus on public health, not bottom line

If the PC government is actually attempting a thoughtful effort at improving the outcomes and cost-effectiveness of health care, perhaps it could tell the media those detailed statistics and thoughts that motivated the changes.

Despite reading CBC online and the Winnipeg Free Press daily, I still don't know why these shifts are occurring — aside from ineffective cost cutting.

Every year, the flu kills people. It costs our economy money. Hospital stays, doctor visits and lost work due to sick days also cost us. It seems obvious — we should all be getting the flu shot.

Our household is motivated to make this happen, but I'm dragging my feet when it comes to another half-day off work and school for a return trip to the pediatrician.

Want to improve public outcomes for health care? Provide more, not fewer, opportunities for accessible care. Bring back the public health clinics for flu shots. Offer flu shots at every medical facility.

Start acting like the government cares about public health instead of just the bottom line.

Joanne Seiff is a mom of twins and a freelance writer, designer and educator, and the author of several books. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.