More than 200 protesters gathered outside Concordia Hospital Tuesday for the first of what health-care workers promise will be many demonstrations in opposition to drastic health-care changes across Winnipeg that include closing three emergency departments.
The crowd was made up of hospital workers, community members and local politicians. The mood toggled between concern and anger.
"We’re going to fight back every step of the way," Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba president Kelly Moist promised.
On Friday, the province and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced sweeping changes that will be rolled out over the next two years, including the consolidation of emergency care and general surgery to Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface General Hospital and Grace Hospital. ERs at Victoria and Seven Oaks hospitals will transition to urgent-care centres for patients requiring serious, but non-life-threatening care. Concordia’s ER will be closed.
Protesters chanted slogans targeting Premier Brian Pallister a couple of hours before the provincial government tabled its 2017-18 budget. The demonstration was timed so hospital workers could attend on their lunch break.
"Code blue in health care," read one sign, a nod to the hospital code for a patient in cardiac arrest. "Some cuts don’t heal," warned another.
"It’s sending a signal that the entire northeast part of the city, including some of our southern neighbourhoods, that we don’t matter," said Kim Pohl, a longtime health worker at Concordia.
"I could have a stroke or a heart attack at the Dollarama just across the street, but I’ll have to go to St. Boniface which, in high traffic, might be 40 minutes... 40 minutes too late."
Hospital X-ray tech Garett Hoare said he doesn't understand why Concordia isn't going to have the same sort of role in Valley Gardens as Seven Oaks and Victoria will have in their areas of the city.
"There’s nothing east of the river," he said. "I understand why they want to streamline critical services… but we don’t understand why we don’t (at least) have urgent care."
Concordia MLA Matt Wiebe, the NDP health critic, said the province is doing the opposite of what's required.
"There needs to be an investment in this emergency room and other front-line services, not a removal of service from communities," he said. "This feels personal right now."
The Progressive Conservatives have begun to chop other programs introduced by the previous NDP government and there are fears of more to come, he said.
"This is just one of the latest in a number of hits that we’ve taken in this community," he said, referring to QuickCare clinics (the province closed one of the city's six in January), an inadequate number of personal-care home beds and cancelling the Hospital Home Team program that kept some geriatric patients out of the hospital.
Union representatives said details of the changes are in short supply.
"We don’t have any more concrete information as to timing or anything, or what numbers will look like," said Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union.
Mowat said she’s heard that changes at Victoria and Concordia are in the initial phase of the overhaul, but even that doesn’t help establish a timeline.
"We don’t know what that means," she said, adding the union has received a commitment from the WRHA to keep it "in the loop."
The MNU plans to hold a rally outside the legislature on April 26.