The Town of Neepawa has both a welcome and complicated problem — an immigration boom that has prompted a housing crunch, and will affect services and businesses across the spectrum, from health care and education to banking and retail.
And as the population of Neepawa and surrounding communities grow, aging health-care facilities in Minnedosa and Neepawa, that were perhaps less than adequate before the population boom, will soon become a major problem as young families begin to settle.
As happened in Brandon in 2008 when the Maple Leaf Foods plant ramped up to a second shift, Neepawa, as well as the surrounding communities of Minnedosa and Gladstone, are anticipating an influx of hundreds of newcomers as the HyLife Foods hog slaughtering plant expands its processing capacity.
With the construction of the plant’s expansion now complete, and with the addition of a second shift, HyLife will slowly begin to increase production with the goal of processing 28,000 hogs per week by the end of the year. That’s an increase of 10,000 from the previous capacity.
To meet this goal, HyLife will hire 250 new people by the end of this year, bringing the total number of employees at the plant to about 900, with the majority on the facility’s cutting floor.
Since 2008, when the HyLife owners purchased the former Springhill Farms plant, scores of immigrant workers have been hired from Korea, Ukraine and the Philippines. In general terms, most if not all of these newcomers have plans to bring their families with them, a process that begins about two years after they themselves arrive. An immigration report that was prepared and released by HyLife last February estimates that by the end of 2013, nearly 2,000 immigrants will have settled in Neepawa and the surrounding communities as a result of the plant expansion.
In 2007, two researchers from the department of rural development at Brandon University published a paper that noted one of the results of a declining population in rural communities was that services such as education, housing and health care had been ignored.
Statistics Canada population records show that Neepawa and Brandon were both communities in decline more than a decade ago, as populations aged or moved to other cities or provinces. As a result, a sudden jump in population proved difficult to manage. Like Brandon, housing prices in Neepawa have doubled in a very short time, and the push is on to create new housing units so that older homes can be opened up for newcomer families. There are more newcomer children in the schools who require special English as an Additional Language education.
While there is certainly a need for new housing and improved education services as new immigrants settle in the region, there is also an acute need to finally move forward with the long-discussed joint hospital between Neepawa and Minnedosa. The demand for more and better health services will only grow with the jump in population.
For example, in 2010 the Sun reported that local births had risen from 1,187 in 2006 to 1,496 in 2010, while births in the former Brandon RHA had risen steadily from 615 in 2006 to 788 in 2010. In 2010, approximately 15 per cent of overall births within the former Brandon RHA catchment area were to recent immigrant families.
At the behest of doctors employed in the two communities, the province was asked in 2008 to study the idea of a joint hospital and to make a decision whether it was a feasible idea. At the time, Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald had promised to try to honour a six-month deadline the two communities had requested for making a decision on the joint project. That six-month deadline has turned into four years of stalling and delays, with not so much as a hint of whether the province was still considering the possibility.
We are not blind to the fact that planning and budgeting for these kinds of hospital facilities takes time, not to mention an enormous amount of cash. But in our opinion, the provincial government has had more than ample time to make a decision either way. It’s unfair to leave these communities in limbo for such a long time.
As these communities continue to grow, so, too, will the need for a decision.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 20, 2012