It’s a sad state of affairs when the best thing that can be said about the ongoing nursing and doctor shortages in western Manitoba is that it’s saving Prairie Mountain Health some cash.
Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson said after the most recent audit, the region is expecting a $7-million surplus this year — well above the estimated $4-million surplus that was reported in the RHA’s recent community stakeholder meeting handout.
This growing surplus, the handout states, “is due to ongoing significant vacancies in some program/service areas,” coupled with some unexpected funding from Manitoba Health.
The surplus means administrators are forecasting a $3.9-million net deficit due to past debt.
The downside of all this, of course, is that rural communities are bearing the brunt of a lack of health coverage in their region. As Manitoba Health spokeswoman Jodee Mason told the Sun, two doctors will start in Brandon and one in Virden later this month, while doctors have recently started practice in a number of other communities in the Prairie Mountain Health region, including Minnedosa, Deloraine and Killarney.
Nevertheless, the communities of Hamiota, Virden, Russell, Killarney, Melita, Minnedosa and Neepawa will still be short on doctors, according to the RHA stakeholder handout.
Nephrology and psychiatry departments in Brandon are also running short.
And nursing shortages over the summer months in a number of areas of Westman will leave another 15 hospitals and personal care homes “further compromised,” the handout states.
“Nursing staff are working hard at covering shifts, but are also working overtime. Due to resource challenges over an extended period of time, fatigue is a concern,” the report states.
Over the last decade, the situation has been worsening — not improving — in rural Manitoba. And the NDP’s 2011 election promise to ensure access to a family doctor for every Manitoban who wanted one seems even more unattainable nearly four years on.
Nursing and doctor fatigue in rural Manitoba will no doubt add to the woes in the health sector.
Yet as we noted before in this space, it’s difficult to fault efforts by the RHA and the province to find new recruits. The authority conducts recruiting by reaching out to Brandon University nursing students through grad nurse dinners and recruitment fairs, among many other avenues, with some notable success.
As well, the province claims that the Family Doctor Finder phone line has successfully connected more than 8,000 Manitobans with a primary care provider since last fall.
While the program has successfully matched patients with doctors, in the Prairie Mountain region the program has had 262 registrars and 144 matches — a success rate under 55 per cent. No doubt the ongoing doctor shortages in the region play a factor, so unless the province can somehow manage to improve its ability to attract doctors to Westman, that success rate will likely remain rather unsuccessful.
Perhaps the takeaway lesson here is that the province needs to learn not to promise more than it can deliver in the throes of an election campaign.