Deloraine mother Candice Klym is concerned about the doctor shortage in Westman. Her five-year-old son, Madden Huggins, had a severe allergic reaction when he was 18 months old and was rushed to the local ER. She’s worried about what would happen if the family has another emergency and has to go to a neighbouring town.
A rural doctor shortage has halted full-time emergency services in another southwestern Manitoba town.
As of Sept. 1, Deloraine’s emergency room is only open during business hours Monday to Friday. For evenings and weekends, the town is now on a shared on-call rotation, alternating ERs between Killarney and Boissevain.
Deloraine Mayor Brian Franklin said while the town is trying to make the best of it, people are "obviously concerned."
"Attracting and retaining (doctors) to the rural area is a real concern," he said. "I don’t think it’s just the southwestern corner of the province, I think it’s all over the province. You’ve got to keep working at it."
According to Prairie Mountain Health, Killarney lost two doctors in July, while Deloraine lost a doctor in August, with another set to resign in November. Melita also lost a doctor in July.
Killarney-Turtle Mountain Mayor Rick Pauls said he and residents in the community are worried about the time it may take to get the medical attention they need in the event of an emergency. The alternate emergency rooms are a 30- to 50-minute commute.
"I think we’re to a point now where it’s actually scary," Pauls said. "Depending where you are in the scope of things along Highway 3, you can easily be over an hour away from emergency services."
Pauls points out if an emergency such as a heart attack occurs in the Cartwright area, "you would be closer to go to Boundary Trails than you would be to go to Deloraine if they’re on call."
"The silly thing is, you’re driving by two hospitals to get to the one that’s open," he said. "It’s absolutely scary."
Deloraine mother Candice Klym is worried about what will happen if her children need immediate medical attention. Her five-year-old son Madden has severe allergies and had a close call when he was just 18 months old.
"I went to check on him and he was literally turning blue," she said. She rushed him to the Deloraine emergency room, where he was put on a ventilator.
"If I had to take him to Boissevain … I don’t even want to think of it," she said.
Health Minister Theresa Oswald announced last month that a record number of doctors (2,599) are now practising in Manitoba, but that statistic unfortunately is still not helping rural emergency departments.
Michelle McKay, director of medical services administration with Prairie Mountain Health, said they are "quite concerned" about the number of physician vacancies in Westman. She estimated that there are about 14 physician vacancies across PMH.
"We certainly have more vacancies right now than we typically have," she said, adding Minnedosa currently has three vacancies, while Boissevain has one.
Progressive Conservative health critic Cameron Friesen had a different number of PMH vacancies. He said according to a recent Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request, there are currently 30.25 physician vacancies in the Prairie Mountain Health region.
"Obviously recruitment and retention efforts are resulting in less doctors practising, not more," Friesen said. "For some reason, the government is getting it wrong."
As for the ER rotation between Killarney, Boissevain and Deloraine, Friesen said the whole system is becoming "more and more precarious."
"When towns as big as Boissevain and Killarney and the rural municipalities that surround them have to share ER services, that’s a major concern," he said.
Friesen would like to see the province implement a program that would repatriate rural Manitobans who have studied medicine outside of Canada and the United States, that want to come back and practice in rural Manitoba.
McKay admits it’s "not an ideal situation," but adds that they base emergency services on response times.
"We still try and look at the time where emergency services could be provided in the back on an ambulance," she said.
"So although we do have shortages in EMS as well, we continue to have stations in all of those communities … We have to really look at the response time being not from the amount of time it takes from a critical or emergent situation to get to an ER, but the amount of time it takes for an EMS crew to get to their residence."
Pauls said while he sympathizes with the health authority, some hard decisions need to be made.
"By trying to keep every place open, they’re closing two of the three," he said. "So what they have to do is … make some regional hospitals down here in southwestern Manitoba … We need a regional centre that’s always going to be open, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with doctors constantly on call."
A spokesperson for Oswald provided an emailed statement to the Brandon Sun.
"We believe every Manitoban should be able to access high quality and timely emergency care, regardless of where they live. We’re committed to acting on the advice we have heard from rural Manitobans, that they want us to work to keep their hospitals and ERs open, not close them," the email read.
If communities have ideas with broad community support to stabilize and improve health services in rural areas, the province is open to them, according to the spokesperson.
"Recruiting any type of professional to smaller rural communities is a challenge. As a government, we have steadfastly focused on doing everything we can to train and recruit more doctors to rural areas."
This includes expanding medical school to train more doctors, accepting more students with rural roots who are more likely to work in rural communities, exposing medical students to rural practice and offering free tuition for medical school students who agree to work in rural communities most in need.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 11, 2013