Residents in Roblin rally, recruit staff, to keep diagnostic and emergency services in town

Residents in Roblin are frustrated and angry, after they were told by Prairie Mountain Health the lab staff they’ve been recruiting for their town, might not be stationed there. 

Community is frustrated, saying Prairie Mountain Health is sending recruited staff to Russell

Manitoba Shared Health and Prairie Mountain Health announced the emergency department at the Roblin District Health Centre will be closed until further notice over staffing issues. (Google Street View)

Residents in Roblin, Man. are frustrated and angry after they were told by Prairie Mountain Health the lab staff they've been recruiting for their town might not be stationed there. 

This comes after it was announced last Thursday the town's two lab technicians are temporarily being relocated to Russell, a town 50 kilometres south of Roblin.

On Friday, Manitoba Shared Health and Prairie Mountain Health announced the emergency department at the Roblin District Health Centre will be closed until further notice.

In an email release, the health authorities said staff shortages created by retirements, maternity leaves and staff departures prompted the shut down. 

Worried that their diagnostic and emergency services will disappear for good, the Roblin Clinic Board, a group of six volunteers — three council members and three community members — who run the local health clinic, began recruiting more lab technicians. 

"We felt we had to get on board here and try to find more staff so that we can keep our hospital operating," said Sean Keeler, the board's president. 

"It's never really looked [at] for communities to have to do this … it kind of blindsided us, came out of nowhere that this was happening" he said. 

Keeler said Shared Health and Prairie Mountain Health needs to fill two permanent positions to keep Roblin's lab running. Through word of mouth, the board has found two people, an x-ray technician and a lab technician, who were interested in moving to Roblin, he added. 

Keeler said their resumes were forwarded to Shared Health and Prairie Mountain Health on Friday, but the response the town got from the health authorities on Friday was disappointing. 

He said town councillors were told staffing priorities for seven vacant positions will be given to Russell and Shoal Lake ahead of Roblin. 

"I think it's very unfair," he said. "For us to go through all this work and have it basically thrown back in our face when we get them … it upsets me. I'm upset and frustrated." 

CBC requested an interview with Prairie Mountain Health and Shared Health on Sunday. The health authorities did not respond to questions about how local recruitment is being conducted or wider service consolidation plans, but deferred to their statement issued on Friday. 

"Recruitment for vacant positions is an ongoing priority, particularly in rural communities," the statement said. "Relocating services in Russell is a temporary measure due to higher patient volumes and acuity of services at that facility." 

Staff told to relocate for six months 

Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, the union representing lab workers, worries this is part of Manitoba's wider plan to consolidate health care services in rural areas. 

In a memo sent by Shared Health, lab staff from Roblin were asked to prepare to work in Russell for six months, he said.

"They're very upset that the services they provide are not being provided in the community where they should be," said Moroz, speaking of his members. 

Roblin's two lab technicians are temporarily being relocated to Russell. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"You build a life in Roblin and you're working just a few minutes away and now you're going to be spending an hour a day travelling back and forth to work, that's an impact," he said. 

Moroz said in order to fast-track recruitment, Shared Health needs to provide higher wages and better respect for diagnostic staff. 

"Our members who are as professional and as critical as anybody else in the health care system are never really part of the conversation," he said. 

"Often the general public [thinks] health care is about having enough doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, this is showing we need the diagnostics."

More travel for emergency services 

Robert Misko, Roblin's council head, said staffing shortages were identified about a year and a half ago and they still haven't been addressed by Shared Health. He believes it's not a priority for the province. 

"It is totally unacceptable," he said. "[They] never consulted with the community, any of the calls that we've had, basically had been announcements." 

With the new changes, community members are asked to call 911 in an emergency or to visit the emergency department in Russell or Grandview — each of which is about a 30-minute drive from Roblin — for care. 

But Misko worries that residents who don't have insurance won't be able to afford an ambulance ride. For residents in the Metis town of San Clara, located 40 kilometres north of Roblin, the drive for care will now be an hour instead of 30 minutes. 

"Is that now going to mean that they're going to say, well, I'd better not call because I don't know if I can afford to pay this. There's been no consideration of any of this," said Misko.  

Residents in Roblin say they're worried about losing their health services, including doctors, diagnostic and emergency care, permanently. 

"It's an uneasy feeling for a lot of people around here," said Tara-Lee Martin, a resident and mother of two, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped. 

"Thankfully, my children are healthy, but if I had to travel more if my children needed immediate care with an underlying health condition, I think that would add so much more stress," she said. 

Martin said there's been times when members of her family were taken to the emergency room. 

"I know for a fact if we didn't have the E.R. here, they wouldn't be with us," she said. "A family member of mine had a heart attack, and if we didn't have [the] E.R, I don't know if he'd still be here."

Jana Knight, another resident, said she's concerned for her elderly grandparents. Knight wrote a letter to Penny Gilson, the CEO of Prairie Mountain Health last week, asking her to find another solution. 

"We have a lot of retirees here. I'm not sure what will happen to them once these services are taken away," Knight said.   

Economic implications 

Knight said she's also concerned for her business.

"I'm not sure that I would move to a community that didn't have an emergency room." 

Misko said the town has been trying to develop economically and bring in new families to work at the machinery dealership, welding plant and car dealerships and not having a hospital in town, will disrupt those efforts. 

"It's very frustrating when you're sitting here with the potential of losing a hospital, the employment that goes with it, all of the economic spin off that comes from that," said Misko. 

"If you come here and your family has any medical needs, you probably have to go elsewhere and get your testing done. And we're not sure if we're able to keep our doctors. Would you move to our community?"

The emergency department in Roblin will temporarily shut down on Sept. 4 until further notice.