July 24, 2017

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Demonstrators demand Tories keep open Misericordia urgent care centre

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Supporters rally to save the Misericordia urgent care facility Thursday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Supporters rally to save the Misericordia urgent care facility Thursday.

One patient recently arrived at the Misericordia Health Centre in a shopping cart.

People living under the nearby bridge come to be treated in the middle of the night. And more than 10,000 of the urgent care centre's annual patients are low-income, diverse residents of the inner city who walk to get treatment because they can't afford a bus ticket, a rally was told Thursday afternoon.

Health-care unions barbecued hotdogs for Misericordia staff on their lunch break and community members who pleaded with Premier Brian Pallister to keep the urgent care centre open.

Misericordia will lose the centre in the next six to 24 months in a massive reorganization of facilties that includes closing three emergency rooms.

Area MLAs organized the rally, including Liberal Jon Gerrard and New Democrats Rob Altemeyer and Wab Kinew.

"Far too often, the city's vulnerable people do not have a voice," nurse Andrea Farrell said in an impassioned speech.

The urgent care centre receives 39,000 patients a year, of whom 30 per cent are core area residents, many of them indigenous or new Canadians, said Farrell, who works in the urgent care centre and is president of Local 2 of the Manitoba Nurses Union.

"Many of these people do not have the means to travel to the north and south of the city" to find an urgent care or emergency room under the Tories' planned reorganizations of health-care facilities, she said.

"The majority arrive on foot. We recently had one arrive by shopping cart," Farrell said. "The bridge people are living under is right outside our front door."

Dr. Michelle Georgi said many of the patients at the urgent care centre can't afford bus tickets.

"How are these people supposed to get to the Health Sciences Centre or the Vic (Victoria Hospital)?" she asked.

An optometrist, Georgi said she sends her patients to the Misericordia because she knows it has the city's shortest waiting times.

"I've brought my own children to urgent care," Georgi said.

A month after Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced plans to close urgent care at the Misericordia, "We are no closer to understanding how closing our urgent care centre makes sense," Georgi said.

Georgi said she is a member of the board of the Misericordia's volunteer foundation, which raised $1.5 million to renovate the triage area of the urgent care centre.

Resident Zainab Mansaray was appalled when she heard the urgent care centre would be closed. She said she has written to Pallister and will go to the legislature to challenge him in person if the premier doesn't reverse the closing.

"Pallister, save the lives of the people. These people are your people," she said Thursday.

Gerrard, who is a medical doctor, told the crowd Misericordia has served the community well for 20 years. "You have built up an extraordinary centre of excellence in urgent care."

It fits in well with having "the best eye-care centre in all of Manitoba" in the same facility, Gerrard said.

"You want to build on centres of excellence. You don't want to batter them down and break them up. They'd better change it, if they have any sense at all," Gerrard said.

Altemeyer said, "You know a government has made a bad decision when you get multiple parties working against it."

In the April 2016 election, Kinew said, "No one would have voted to close the Misericordia urgent care centre."

He exhorted the crowd to dig in. "In this new era, eating hotdogs is an act of resistance," he chortled.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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