'There are risks': ER closures could bring needed change, health-care providers say

Changing Winnipeg's health-care system isn't easy for anyone, but it has to happen, says the medical director of the city's emergency program.

3 of Winnipeg's 6 emergency rooms set to close after announcement on Friday

'We're hoping in the end that what this will do is get the right patient to the right facility,' says paramedics union president Ryan Woiden. (CBC)

Changing Winnipeg's health-care system isn't easy for anyone, but it has to happen, says the medical director of the city's emergency program.

On Friday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced a major health-care revamp that will see two of the city's emergency departments replaced by urgent care centres and a third one shut down altogether.

​"There is some confusion, and it's understandable. This is a big change," said Dr. Alecs Chochinov, the medical director for the emergency program with the health authority.

Health authority officials say the move will streamline health care in the city and find efficiences within the system, but the move has been criticized by some, including staff at Concordia Hospital.

Chochinov said many staff members at the affected hospitals are "shaken up."

"The first few days have been really difficult, to be honest with you," he said.

"I'm in the business of mitigating risk, so I'm not jumping up and down with joy. I think there are risks in this," Chochinov said.

"What was clear from the beginning is that the status quo was unacceptable, that Winnipeg did have too many EDs [emergency departments] relative to its population and relative to other Canadian centres."

'The right patient to the right facility'

Ryan Woiden, the president of the paramedic union, Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union Local 911, told CBC's Up To Speed he believes the changes could help fix the "stressed" emergency medicine situation, and eventually urgent care centres might find themselves full of patients that used to go to ERs.

"Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of questions too that need to be answered. But we're hoping in the end that what this will do is get the right patient to the right facility, whether it's an ER if they require one or an urgent care facility if they require that."

Patients in major trauma situations are already rushed not to the nearest emergency room but to a trauma centre, often Health Sciences Centre, Woiden said.

"If you're having a heart attack in the west end, we'll bypass the Grace to take you to St. Boniface," where special therapies are available, he said.

"We're already doing what perhaps we'll be doing in the future maybe more of with urgent care centres."

He hopes the public will be on board when more details of the plan are released.

"Whether some people agree with it or disagree with it, we're health-care professionals and our job is to look after the patient," he said. "Paramedics are there to do whatever we can to make it work."​

Chochinov said the key message is that wherever you go, you'll get care.

"The critical decision about whether to go to an ED or urgent care centre isn't quite as critical as people think, because you will get care at all those centres," he said. "Nobody will be turned away from one of the three emergency departments if they have a non-emergent condition."

Full coverage of health cuts in Manitoba

With files from CBC's Marcy Markusa, Ismaila Alfa, Tessa Vanderhart, Aidan Geary