Winnipeggers rally to save Concordia Hospital's emergency room

Hundreds of Winnipeggers rallied outside the Concordia Hospital Wednesday, in an effort to convince the Manitoba government to change its mind about closing the hospital's emergency room.

ER originally set to close in June, but Health Minister refused to confirm timeline last week

Hundreds of people rallied at the Concordia Hospital in the hopes of reversing the government's decision to close the hospital's emergency room. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Hundreds of Winnipeggers rallied outside the Concordia Hospital Wednesday, in an effort to convince the Manitoba government to change its mind about closing the hospital's emergency room.

"People are passionate about it. They don't want to have to travel," said Claudette Wills, a volunteer on the Save the Concordia ER committee.

"There are a lot of seniors residences and high rises in the area, and they feel that it's just very dangerous, and it's too long of a drive to go to St. [Boniface Hospital] or Health Science Centre in an emergency."

The ER is scheduled to be closed in June as part of the second phase of a Winnipeg health care overhaul. But Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen has stopped short in recent weeks from committing to that date.

The province recently recruited the same consultant who proposed the sweeping changes, Dr. David Peachey, to review the second phase of the project. Peachey has said he's not been directed to delay or stop the Concordia ER closure.

Phase 1 included closing the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital and the urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre during the first phase of health-care reform. The plan to consolidate emergency care in Winnipeg from six locations to three locations is designed to cut wait times and find efficiencies.

Claudette Wills, a volunteer with the Save the Concordia ER committee, said she's heard concerns from people in the community about safety following the scheduled closure. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

If consolidation goes forward as planned, including closing Concordia's ER, Wills said northeast Winnipeg will be left without an emergency room.

The hospital would open a walk-in clinic in its place, the province has said. Wills said the community doesn't need another one of those.

She said she and the volunteer committee have voiced their concerns to four MLAs in the area, but haven't felt heard.

"We were very dismissed, and our comments were rejected a lot of times," she said.

Health Minister Friesen said Manitoba health care needed to change, and evidence so far indicates the overhaul is on the right track. He said he wants demonstrators at the rally to know the government is listening.

"I would want the people in the northeast quadrant of Winnipeg to know that their government is working hard every single day to make sure that the outcomes and patient experience and wait times will not be acceptable but better and better."

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, was at the demonstration Wednesday, and gave a speech to the crowd. He called the changes an "attack on health care."

"Time and again, Brian Pallister has put the bottom line ahead of the needs of people, and it's led to chaos in our health-care system," Rebeck said. "The people in this community know you don't get better health care by cutting access to it, and you don't get better health care by failing to support health care workers."

St. Boniface construction on schedule: minister

Last week, Friesen said he needs to be convinced the renovated ER at St. Boniface Hospital has the capacity and staffing to accommodate the expected influx of patients from Concordia before he would sign off on the closure.

On Wednesday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew presented documents during question period at the Manitoba Legislature he said show the St. Boniface work is far from complete.

The documents, dated Dec. 15, 2018, show construction was 40 per cent complete on Part 1 of three, with contractors at the time about to begin installing drywall.

"Right now it looks like those are way behind schedule. We've got a document that shows that. But you only have to drive by the hospital to see that it's a construction zone right now," Kinew said.

Friesen, however, said he could "categorically deny" the suggestion the work is behind schedule.

"I don't know where the leader is taking this information from. But I would caution him. He seems to be misleading Manitobans," Friesen said. "I have received no information that any of the renovations at St. Boniface are behind schedule."

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority told CBC News in an email the work at the hospital is "on time and on budget" towards a completion date of summer 2019.

With files from Jaison Empson


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