Manitoba

'I realized I just couldn't manage': Why a Winnipeg doctor is walking away from his job

A Winnipeg doctor who has worked in the province for 20 years says he’s stepping away from his job in nuclear medicine at Health Science Centre, because of fiscal cuts and a drop in staff morale. 

'We don't deal with things unless they're [in] a crisis,' says Dr. Sandor Demeter

A doctor from the nuclear medicine says his department is dealing with low staff morale. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A Winnipeg doctor who has worked in the province for 20 years says he's stepping away from his job in nuclear medicine at Health Sciences Centre because of fiscal cuts and a drop in staff morale. 

"The last 10 years here, there's been such an erosion both sort of fiscally and [of] morale among staff that I came to the point where I realized I just couldn't manage … not being able to be a positive change agent anymore," said Dr. Sandor Demeter.

When Demeter moved to the province, he helped develop Manitoba's first PET scanner program — a tool used to diagnose patients with certain types of cancer. 

He says that in 2005, Winnipeg was on the "cutting edge" of cancer diagnosis.  

"It has now become [the] standard of care for cancer patients to have these PET scans to help manage their disease … it really helps determine what they get and how they're responding to therapy," said Demeter.  

When the PET scanner was first brought to Winnipeg, it was temporarily set up at the University of Manitoba, and it wasn't until that scanner was in dire need of repairs, that a push was made to house it at the Health Sciences Centre in the nuclear medicine department. 

Earlier this year, a new scanner was temporarily installed at HSC, with the older scanner remaining serving as a backup housed at the University of Manitoba.

With the permanent location of the PET scanner still unknown, Demeter says staff morale in his department is at an all time low. 

"We're at the edge of being able to … meet the demand right now. And so our wait times are longer than I would like them to be," said Demeter.  

"For some patients, if you have a diagnosis of a blood cancer like lymphoma … you don't necessarily want to wait three to four weeks to have that initial PET scan … it's just not [a] great standard of care." 

Why a Winnipeg doctor is walking away from his job

6 days ago
1:51
A Winnipeg doctor who has worked in the province for 20 years says he's stepping away from his job in nuclear medicine at Health Sciences Centre because of fiscal cuts and a drop in staff morale. 1:51

Demeter first noticed a change in his department in 2018, after a new organizational structure of Manitoba Health was brought in, and Shared Health was introduced.

"They're still working out what they want Shared Health to look like from the diagnostic imaging point of view," said Demeter.

Managerial positions vacant: Lamont

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said during question period that he knows two managerial positions at HSC that have remained vacant for at least two years, saying the workload for those positions are usually given to physicians in the departments. 

"They are essentially being told after busting your asses to off all these duties, feel free to apply for your job when it's posted, that's exactly what's been happening to hundreds of people in the health-care system," said Lamont. 

"Our health-care system is certainly broken now, and Shared Health leadership should be held accountable to fix [it]." 

Interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen responded by shifting the focus to the federal Liberals, blaming a lack of health-care funding. He said Manitoba is working with other provinces to get Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the table, in order to negotiate a new funding agreement.

Other factors have also led to Demeter's decision to leave the department. 

"Add to that sort of a fiscal austerity ideology, where you cut the budget and then we see how the system responds and we don't deal with things unless they're [in] a crisis," he said. 

"The last part of this perfect storm was COVID. [It] created huge demands on the system, which had already been cut to the bone." 

In Demeter's department, there are two vacant positions, and when he wraps up his time at HSC in December, one more position will be open to applicants.

He worries the department will not be able to handle the workload, and might have to start sending people out of province.

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