WRHA introduces new intensive home-care program

The Winnipeg Regional Health authority will pay two private companies more than $15 million to help start up a new transitional home-care service, replacing a program the province stopped funding this spring.

Program to provide transitional care for clients between hospitals and care homes

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says the WRHA's new Priority Home program will provide 'familiar surroundings and comforts' to patients. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Winnipeg Regional Health authority will pay two private companies more than $15 million to help start up a new transitional home-care service, replacing a program the province stopped funding this spring.

The Priority Home program, which was hinted at in April as part of the health authority's plan to overhaul the city's health-care system, will provide patients with up to 90 days of intensive at-home care, the WRHA announced Wednesday.

The program aims to avoid longer-than-necessary stays in hospitals as well as patients being prematurely moved to personal care homes.

"We know in hospital there are safety risks of people losing mobility. The longer you stay in hospital the more likely you're going to end up in a personal care home," said WRHA CEO Réal Cloutier, who explained the transitional program.

After the 90 days at home, patients can either transition into a personal care home if appropriate or remain at home with regular, ongoing home care.

The WRHA is paying two private, Ontario-based companies $15.7 million over the next three years for the program.

We Care health services (part of the CBI Health Group) and ParaMed won the contracts after a request for proposals.

Priority Home replaces a WRHA pilot project called Hospital Home Team that put about 10 nurses in charge of caring for 550 chronically ill Winnipeggers in their homes.

The province previously gave the WRHA $1.7 million to run the program, but the funding expired on March 31 and was not renewed.

'It's privatizing home care': union

Cloutier said this is an additional service and expands on the previous Hospital Home Team, but the head of Manitoba's largest union said the decision amounts to privatizing home care in Manitoba.

"My biggest fear is that when you start privatizing it off, it comes down to the bottom line — it comes down to money," said Michelle Gawronsky, the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.

"It doesn't come down to what care is going to be needed for Manitobans."

Gawronsky said Manitoba has a comprehensive, universal public home-care program that "is among the best in Canada," and that the health authority and province should be building on that system rather than "auctioning it off in pieces."
Another day, another big change in Manitoba's health care system. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is adding a new home care service starting in November. Private companies based out of Ontario will run a new intensive home care service. 1:51

But Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the move is about getting Manitobans the best possible care.

"That, as the health minister, is what my concern is — is that people get the treatment they need when they need it. It's the union's concern about whether or not they have a union card, but that isn't what my primary concern is," he said.

Gawronsky said previous efforts to privatize home care in Manitoba proved to be too expensive.

"I think it's time this government and the WRHA stop mincing words and start being honest with Manitobans. What they announced today is major. It's privatizing home care in Manitoba," she said.

Cloutier said the decision to contract out the work for the first three years was made because of the "timeline and intensive services" required to meet a transitional deadline.

He said once the three year contract is up, the WRHA hopes to take over the home-care work once again.

With files from Teghan Beaudette