Southwestern Manitoba town starts new year with closure of EMS station

Wawanesa's emergency medical services station closed on Jan. 1, following years of staffing shortages.

Emergency medical services station in Wawanesa closed Jan. 1 after years of staffing shortages

Wawanesa is without an EMS station, after it was shuttered on Jan. 1. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A southwestern Manitoba town marked the start of 2023 with the closure of its only emergency medical services station.

The EMS station in Wawanesa, just southeast of Brandon, was closed on Jan. 1.

That closure has been coming for years, said Dave Kreklewich, the head of council for the Oakland-Wawanesa municipality.

In 2017, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government said it was moving forward on a large-scale transformation of the province's emergency medical services system, which would include closing more than a dozen rural Manitoba EMS stations.

"It's been a topic of discussion for a long time.… We knew it was coming," Kreklewich said.

"It's been bare bones and we've been doing everything we can to maintain it, but it's now got to the point where ... it's not workable any longer."

Before COVID-19, Wawanesa's ambulance service never experienced staffing shortages, he said, but that changed when the pandemic hit.

Under the provincial plan announced in 2017, low-volume stations would be closed, but five new stations would be built and staffed with full-time paramedics in the communities of Miniota, Cowan, Alonsa, Manigotogan and Eriksdale, while stations in Virden and Glenboro would be "enhanced," the province said.

But Kreklewich said there are fears the lack of a local ambulance in the area will increase response times.

"Ambulances shouldn't be 30 minutes away.... We're looking at a space of 10 to 15, or 20, or maybe even 35 miles away from an ambulance. That is, to us not acceptable," Kreklewich said.

"You still need somebody that's available to give ... immediate care."

EMS coverage is the responsibility of the provincial Shared Health organization and the provincial government, Kreklewich said, and he hopes they can get a handle on what he calls a "crisis" in the health-care system.

'More robust staffing model' needed: union president

Jason Linklater, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said while the closure of the Wawanesa EMS station is unfortunate, it speaks to a larger issue of rural paramedic staffing and funding.

"Rural EMS is in a crisis right now," Linklater said. "We don't have the number of paramedics we need to service Manitobans."

Other stations have also been shuttered in rural Manitoba recently, including Birtle, Hamiota and McCreary, said Linklater.

"If the province is closing these smaller EMS stations, they need staffing increases and [to] move away from their on-call to a more robust staffing model," he said.

Recruitment and retention efforts are failing, as paramedics have not had a new contract for over five years, said Linklater.

Without a competitive contract, and wage increases to address the disparity between rural and Winnipeg paramedics, the situation will only get worse, he said.

"We've really noticed it over the last two to three years, I would say, and it's getting to the point where people are leaving," Linklater said. "It creates a huge amount of burnout for the people in those jobs."

Working on recruiting, retention: Shared Health

Emergency medical services continue to face staffing challenges, like many other fields across Manitoba and Canada, said Callum Melvin, the director of EMS operations for Shared Health's west zone. 

Paramedics do "tremendous work" every day in Manitoba, Melvin said, even though they are short-staffed.

"They are working very, very hard and they continue to serve the residents and communities in Manitoba exceptionally well and provide that high level of care," Melvin said.

"As the organization responsible, we know that, and their communities know that.… It's been a very tough last three years in health care, as we all know, with the pandemic, and they continue to persevere and provide that care."

He says it is challenging to recruit enough qualified professionals to fulfil needed roles in the province — especially in rural areas, because many people opt to work in urban settings.

McCreary, Birtle and Hamiota historically experienced very challenging staffing patterns, rotations and recruitment, he said, but numerous attempts to find staff in those communities did not have great success.

Shared Health is working on several initiatives to boost rural paramedic numbers, including a long-term strategy of recruiting at the local level and attempts to build interest in the profession as a career option.

"The hope is that then they will come back and work in their home community, which is rural Manitoba," Melvin said.

"With our overall staffing vacancy the way it is, we have been very intentional to try and be strategic about where we're recruiting to."


Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with


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