1st major changes in health-care overhaul to start next week in Winnipeg

The closure was announced earlier this year by the province and the health authority in an effort to streamline care in Winnipeg, following guidelines set out by Nova Scotia-based consultant Dr. David Peachey in a government-commissioned report.

Victoria Hospital ER to become urgent care centre, Misericordia urgent care to close

The emergency room at Winnipeg's Victoria General Hospital will be converted to an urgent care centre as of Oct. 3. (Google Maps)

The first major changes in a sweeping reform of Winnipeg's health-care system are going forward next week with the conversion of one of the city's six emergency rooms and the closure of an urgent care centre.

As of 8 a.m. on Oct. 3, the ER at the Victoria Hospital will become an urgent care centre, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said in a news release on Tuesday.

It's part of the first phase of a major health-care overhaul announced by the health authority and the province in April of this year in an effort to streamline care in the city.

On the same day, the hospital's Mature Women's Health Centre will close and patients will be shifted to Health Sciences Centre, and a new wait-times website will launch.

On Oct. 2 at 8 p.m., the urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre also close its doors.

The overhaul follows guidelines laid out by Nova Scotia-based consultant Dr. David Peachey in a report commissioned by the former NDP government in 2015. Other major changes still to come are the conversion of the emergency department at Seven Oaks Hospital to an urgent care centre and the closure of Concordia Hospital's emergency room.

Peachey was back in Manitoba on Tuesday for the first time since presenting his report five months ago. He told reporters at a joint news conference with the province and the health authority he was impressed by the "enthusiastic implementation" of his recommendations.

"It's very clear to me on looking back now over the past five months since we left, that Manitoba is moving forward and it's got the priorities right. The priorities are converging to do things differently and to do them better," Peachey said.

"It is a real treat to see this happening and I think you can all feel good about it."

'Change is difficult'

Wab Kinew, the leader of the Manitoba NDP, said the changes are moving too quickly.

"It seems clear that the plan is being rushed to serve a political timeline rather than a patient driven timeline, and that's a real concern," Kinew said.

But Lori Lamont, vice-president of interprofessional practice and chief nursing officer with the WRHA, said the health authority has planned the transition thoroughly and built in "safety nets" to accommodate confusion.

The health authority identified roughly 20 frequent patients at the Misericordia urgent care centre who need to be assigned a family doctor to treat concerns they may otherwise have brought to the centre and is working to make that happen, she said.

Staffing changes will be also staggered after the closures, she said, so staff will remain on-hand at the Misericordia to treat or redirect patients, and emergency-trained physicians and nurses will stay on at the Victoria for a period after the emergency room is converted.

"We've practiced those plans, we've tested those scenarios and we've seen significant improvement in those tests and so we are very confident that they will be able to meet the needs as our system changes next week," she said.

Karlee Blatz, regional director of labour relations for the health authority, said the WRHA had conducted more than 400 job selection meetings with nurses at the Victoria and Grace Hospitals who received job deletion notices and was in the process of awarding positions.

Most nurses chose to stay on at their unit on the new rotation, she added.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province and health authority have spent the past six months planning the transition to make it as seamless as possible for patients, including announcing $20 million in renovations and conducting trials and simulations.

"We recognize that change is difficult. Big change is especially difficult. Big change in health care is really, really difficult and we did not undertake this lightly," Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at the Tuesday news conference. "But it was clear that change was and change is necessary."

Ambulance travel time may increase: paramedic

The changes may result in a five- to 10-minute increase in transport time for patients in ambulances, paramedic Ryan Sneath said at the news conference. But he expects fewer patients will need to be transferred between hospitals.

"We may see a bit of an increase in transport times, but for us, if we're having the patient go to the right hospital in the first place and not having to do a subsequent move of that patient afterwards that makes a lot more sense and a lot more efficiencies for our service," Sneath said.

With files from Erin Brohman