Timely Care’s timing has raised eyebrows in the health-care system and at the legislature.
The business, operated by four nurse practitioners who make house calls and offer online consultations, has been running since the beginning of March.
In January, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority closed one of the six QuickCare clinics set up by the former NDP government because it said it had difficulties attracting nursing staff.
The service operates outside the public health-care system and clients pay out of pocket.
The Manitoba Nurses Union said Friday it has been scrambling to find out more about Timely Care, which could represent the start of private businesses poaching in-demand health-care providers from the overburdened public system.
"MNU is opposed to the privatization of health care. We strongly believe that a public health-care system is key to ensuring the delivery of quality and timely health care for all," the union said in a statement.
"There is plenty of evidence that shows that two-tiered health-care systems actually hurt the public system because there are only so many health-care professionals to go around. There is already a shortage of nurse practitioners."
The nurses don’t "work" for Timely Care; they are their own individual private health companies paying to use the Corydon Avenue location as a central hub co-op of sorts for dispatch services, supplies and lab services, one told the Free Press.
"It’s our own businesses," said Diane Gudmundson of Richer, who visits patients in their homes within a 50-kilometre radius of Steinbach.
Gudmundson, who has been working in the public health-care system for 15 years, says she has no intention of giving up her job at one of the five remaining Winnipeg QuickCare clinics.
She said the timing is coincidental.
"This has been in the works for quite a time," she said.
"I was already thinking of starting a private business."
The Timely Care website features an extensive list of services and fees. Home visits are available in Winnipeg, Steinbach and Stonewall and their surrounding areas for $50 plus a $30 travel fee.
Online virtual visits of 10 minutes are available anywhere in the province for $40.
None of the fees are covered by Manitoba Health.
The Opposition NDP is accusing Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen and Premier Brian Pallister of encouraging private companies to fill the void they’re creating by cutting public services.
NDP health critic Matt Wiebe isn’t surprised by Timely Care’s launch; the premier has spoken of more private services entering the system.
"I’d be worried there’s going to be more of these coming," Wiebe said Friday.
"You can draw a direct line between the QuickCare clinic closing in St. Boniface, where they said there was a lack of nurse practitioners, and a company that uses nurse practitioners.
"If they see an opportunity where the premier and the health minister aren’t opposed to private health services, we’ll see more companies come to fill the gap of what we’re losing."
Goertzen wasn’t available for an interview, but an aide said Friday that Timely Care is legal under the Canada Health Act and Goertzen has no jurisdiction over its operations.
"In the view of Manitoba, delivery of clinical services by nurse practitioners within their scope of practice on an uninsured basis is not a contravention of Manitoba’s current legislation," said Amy McGuinness, Goertzen’s press secretary.
So far, Gudmundson said, she’s putting in a few hours a week with patients. She said the clinic isn’t actively recruiting additional nurse practitioners now.
"We want to make sure the model works," she said.