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This article was published 19/1/2015 (2101 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Whether it’s perceived or not, Prairie Mountain Health has a problem in the southwest corner of the province.
On Feb. 6, stakeholders from the Town of Melita and RM of Two Borders are hosting a meeting to discuss what will be a shortage of doctors in the near future.
Alby Morris, a councillor in Melita, said the community currently has two fulltime doctors and one semi-retired doctor who works approximately half-time.
In March, one of the fulltime doctors is resigning from the facility, while her colleague is set to be gone for about six months in March, leaving the hospital with one semi-retired physician.
Morris said he knows PMH management is doing its best to handle the growing number of doctor shortages across the health region, but said the community is starting to feel alienated and neglected.
"I know the bulk of the community isn’t impressed with the RHA," Morris said frankly. "Everyone is really concerned and we don’t want to lose our medical services here."
Nurses have told Morris they believe the emergency room will have to be temporarily shut down when the doctors leave.
"The community feels the RHA isn’t trying hard enough to fill these positions and they would rather fill centres like Virden, Killarney or Russell — the bigger communities," Morris said. "As far as I’m concerned we have people that deserve just as much to be taken care of out here. I realize that bigger population can have a larger voice, but it’s a concern out here that if this place closes down, we’re going to be in a quandary."
Complicating matters is the oil boom, which has been tempered more recently by the fall in prices.
"This is a farming community and that’s a high risk venue with many people often getting hurt on the farm," Morris said. "We’re also in the middle of an oil boom and Melita and Virden is where the bulk of where those workers go. Pierson is a long way from Deloraine or Virden. It’s almost an hour-long drive."
Once home to a proud volunteer ambulance crew, Melita has seen it almost dissipate completely.
"We had a very good volunteer service and then the government stepped in," Morris said. "Now we have a shortage of ambulance people."
Morris blames onerous new regulations that required unrealistic and expensive training in order to stay on as an attendant.
In 2013, an independent review of the emergency medical services program in the province called for the "phase out" of emergency medical responders and a move toward a "paramedics only" model.
The 69-page report, prepared by lead consultant Reg Toews, contained 54 recommendations for the EMS system.
It recommended the closure or consolidation of low volume stations into higher volume stations. The report says the former Assiniboine Regional Health Authority, which is now a part of the Prairie Mountain Health region, has a much higher number of stations, many of which are low call volume stations, than many other RHAs.
It also called on the province to establish a response time standard of not more than 30 minutes for 90 per cent of the population 90 per cent of the time, with targets for urban areas of under nine minutes and under 15 minutes in rural Manitoba, excluding remote areas.
Morris said those times aren’t being met.
He recently heard of a patient waiting more than two hours in Lyleton because an ambulance had to be commandeered from Minnedosa.
"An hour wait in Pierson or Lyleton is not uncommon," Morris said. "I don’t think it’s good enough for this area. We pay our tax dollar like everyone else."
People are beginning to wonder if the move to more regional facility and services is going to happen through attrition, Morris said.
"The RHA hasn’t lifted a big finger to try to improve the facility," Morris said. "They’re kind of letting it go and I have a feeling deep down inside that they’re going to close this place."
PMH CEO Penny Gilson said there are a number of vacancies across the region right now, including Killarney, Melita, Minnedosa, Russell, Swan River and Winnipegosis.
Due to geography and call volumes, Gilson said those doctors will be heading to Swan River, Russell and Killarney.
Gilson said Melita was later to the queue than other hospitals that have been dealing with shortages, because the resignation only came to light.
"In addition, we have some ongoing nursing shortages in Melita as well," she said. "We’re relying heavily on agency nurses and those vacancies have existed without anyone applying."
Blaine Kraushaar, a media spokesman for PMH, provided a list of the number of physicians practising in the area as of November.
There are 33 family physicians in Brandon, while there are 18 in Dauphin to lead the hospitals with the most doctors in PMH.
Baldur, Birtle, Boissevain, McCreary, Rossburn, Wawanesa and Winnipegosis are operating with one family practice doctor.
Melita shows two doctors, while Killarney, Minnedosa and Russell have three. Swan River has nine doctors.
"Swan River is two hours from anywhere and we have a long-term physician who is leaving there this spring which will have a definite impact, so yes, one will be going to Swan River," Gilson said. "Swan River is critical. We need sustainability of a lot of services so we need a lot of doctors."
Gilson said the volume of visits to the Swan River area is exponentially higher than those of some of the southern stations.
"I work on our needs in the region," Gilson said. "I think of all needs as an absolute priority, but we have to pick the highest need when we have limited resources."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed
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