WRHA announces $19.9M in renovations to deal with massive health-care revamp

Winnipeg’s hospitals will get $19.9 million in renovations over the next 27 months as part of the massive restructuring in the health-care system.

Hospital renos to be completed by spring 2019

There will be more than $19 million in renovations over the next two years as Winnipeg hospitals deal with a major health-care revamp. (CBC)

Winnipeg's hospitals will get $19.9 million in renovations over the next 27 months as part of the massive restructuring in the health care system.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced the capital investments Monday afternoon, saying they would help the consolidation of clinical services.

The major health-care revamp, announced in April, will include the replacement of two of the city's emergency departments with urgent care centres. A third will be shut down altogether.

As part of the plan, patients with similar care needs will be grouped together in locations with specialized staff and equipment, the WRHA said. 

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he knew there would be resistance to the major overhaul, but the changes needed to be made. 

"I would say to Manitobans, remember where we are coming from. We are coming from a system that hasn't worked particularly well because there has been a resistance to change from leadership," he said. 

"But leadership is about making sometimes difficult decisions but with an end point in mind of improving lives for people and improving the outcomes for people." 

Winnipeg's hospitals will get $19.9 million in renovations over the next 27 months as part of the massive restructuring in the health care system. Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he knew there would be resistance to the major overhaul, but the changes needed to be made. 0:30

The first phase of renovations, to be completed by spring 2018, include minor renovations at St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department, special rooms for long-term care at Deer Lodge Centre and renovations at Health Sciences Centre to deal with increased patient volumes once the other emergency rooms convert to urgent care centres.

A unit at Victoria General Hospital will also be converted to geriatric rehabilitation, to accommodate a move of the unit from St. Boniface Hospital.

"These investments will also improve patient environment and the work environment for staff, allowing them to better utilize their skills in the provision of patient care," said Lori Lamont, vice-president and chief nursing officer with the WRHA, in a news release.

More minor renovations to increase capacity at Health Sciences Centre will continue into the second phase, to be completed by spring 2019.

It will also include a feasibility study into a helipad at St. Boniface Hospital, funded by the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation.​

The capital investment comes after the Pallister government gave the WRHA a mandate to find $83 million in savings in this year's budget, resulting in cuts to 15 per cent of its management.

Other cost-cutting manoeuvres include moving in-house patient physiotherapy and occupational therapy services out of hospitals and into private-practice clinics by mid-October to save the health region $5 million between 2017 and 2019.

Many of the cost-saving moves come amid allegations from health-care workers and professional organizations that the Pallister government is pushing towards privatizing certain services, including outpatient physiotherapy, occupational therapy and audiology.

"There are probably very few staff in our region that won't be touched in some way by the changes," Lamont said. 

Lori Lamont, vice-president and chief nursing officer with the WRHA, said the capital investments are necessary for the health-system overhaul. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The actual impact of those changes won't be clear until WRHA looks at labour adjustment strategies and the collective agreements with employees, she added. 

"[We] are confident there will be positions for staff who want to continue to work with us," she said. 

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) president Michelle Gawronsky said money should be spent on providing care, not figuring out how to accomodate the cuts. 

"First they cut services and jobs and now they tell us those cuts come with a multimillion dollar price tag? Pay millions to get less services — sounds like a bad deal for patients, families and those working on the front lines," Gawronsky said in an emailed statement.  

Opposition New Democrat health critic Matt Wiebe said the big capital-project price tags show the Pallister government was not prepared for the emergency room closures. 

"Day after day, it is becoming clearer that the government's agenda is to cut costs, not improve patient care," said Wiebe in an emailed statement.  "They cut services first and figure out their plans later."

Here is where the $19.9 million in renovations will go: 

Mental-health care

  • Inpatient mental health services will be consolidated from five hospitals to three. Fifty-two beds will be moved from Grace Hospital and Seven Oaks to Victoria Hospital. The number of beds in the WRHA will stay the same. 

  • A new outpatient mental health clinic will be added on the main floor of Victoria Hospital.

Special-needs care

  • At Deer Lodge a residential care unit will be converted to help residents with significant behavioural concerns, particularly those with dementia. It will add 10 private special-needs rooms to the long-term care capacity of the WRHA.

Geriatric care

  • Geriatric rehabilitation is moving from St. Boniface Hospital to Victoria General Hospital, replacing the latter's medicine unit (which will eventually be moved to Grace Hospital). It will require minor renovations, including the creation of an open space for active therapy and group dining.

Emergency care

  • Renovations are planned at St. Boniface Hospital to create a minor treatment space, to help less acute patients, next to the emergency department.
  • Renovations are needed to expand the minor treatment area at Health Sciences Centre to deal with the expected increase in patients after Concordia Hospital's emergency department closes and the Seven Oaks ER is turned into urgent care.
  • There will be renovations at Health Sciences Centre's Clinical Assessment Unit, which helps patients who may need extra time for treatment, but might not need to be admitted to the hospital. The unit will be expanded from six to 10 beds.
  • St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department will be renovated to prepare for more patients.

Surgical and intensive care

  • The Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Health Sciences Centre is set to move from 12 to 14 beds, requiring minor renovations to the preoperative holding area. It is the only ICU that provides care to burn, trauma and neurosurgical patients.
  • The Intermediate Intensive Care Unit at Health Sciences Centre, which helps get patients off of ventilators or prepares them for long-term mechanical ventilation, will be relocated to a new space in the hospital, bumping up bed capacities from six to eight. The move will expand the current medical intensive care unit.
  • After the Victoria Hospital's emergency room becomes a urgent care centre, its ICU space will be renovated to accommodate an expanded day surgery program.