The recent arrival of a new doctor in Minnedosa has allowed the emergency room and acute care services at the Minnedosa Health Centre to remain open full-time — despite some concerns from Prairie Mountain Health.
Penny Gilson, CEO for the health authority, said they were preparing last month to close these services on weekends, but have been fortunate enough to keep them open without any service reduction.
Minnedosa currently has three physicians providing both general and ER care, but Gilson said that’s less than ideal.
"Having five or six physicians would be complementary for Minnedosa," she said.
The process for getting new physicians to different communities in Westman is complicated.
Recent Manitoba graduates are able to choose from a list of open positions throughout the region. Prairie Mountain Health places international medical graduates into the highest priority vacancies once the physician is able to begin practising in Manitoba.
"I consider all our vacancies to be high priority," Gilson said. "We don’t prioritize the vacancies until a new physician becomes available."
Four new international grads have been placed within Prairie Mountain Health since February and are practising in Killarney, Deloraine, Swan River and Minnedosa. All four have three-year commitments to remain in the region.
Before Dr. Olagoke Owojori started in Minnedosa, only two physicians were working together to ensure services were not lost in the community during the week. The weekend was subsequently understaffed.
"Only three physicians doing on-call is very tight," Gilson said. "If all of a sudden one physician wasn’t available for some reason, we could face some disruptions. But for now, they are covering 24-7."
Similar shortages can be seen throughout Westman communities.
Virden Health Centre has dealt with consistent weekday closures due to a drop from five physicians to two. Gilson said she’s hoping Virden will be able to see more ER services returning as early as the beginning of July with one physician returning from leave and the addition of one international grad.
Closures in Hamiota and Killarney have been more sporadic, Gilson said. Prairie Mountain Health tries to sort out the on-call scheduling for each month with plenty of time to give notice to the community through mail drops and other announcements.
Prairie Mountain continues to use locum physicians to help keep ER services open when local physicians are unable to. However, there are not enough locums to cover all the shortages in the region.
While physician shortages are the cause of most ER closures under Prairie Mountain Health, Gilson said that there are also gaps in the number of nurses throughout the region. However, no services have been cut due to nurse shortages.
During periods of closure in ER services, Gilson recommends that people call their local health centre for non-life-threatening emergencies to find out which of the nearest ERs has doctors on call.