NDP sounds alarm on access to health care in Leaf Rapids, nursing crisis in North
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/01/2022 (504 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Weeks have passed since Elizabeth Charrier last saw her father, after he was sent hundreds of kilometres from their northern town of Leaf Rapids for surgery in Winnipeg.
While he’s on the mend and ready to head north, Charrier said his return has been delayed indefinitely, after the remote community’s health centre was shuttered Dec. 27 due to staff shortages.
“After the surgery, he has to go in regularly for bandaging and to make sure it’s healing properly. So there’s nothing for him to do that here,” Charrier said.
As of Thursday, the Northern Regional Health Authority could not say when the health centre would reopen. The nearly 600 residents of Leaf Rapids have been told to travel to Lynn Lake — a roughly 200-km round trip — or to Thompson to access routine care.
Charrier said the closure — going on four weeks — is just the latest blow to the community that’s struggled to have reliable, and sustainable health services.
“My biggest concern is my elders and the children and my whole community, because it’s messing with our well-being,” the mother of two said. “We have a right to access health care just like everyone else, but there are so many barriers for us right now that are preventing us from being able to do that.”
A spokesperson for the NRHA said the centre has been staffed exclusively by agency nurses for the past five years and, due to COVID-19 issues, nurses have been sick or have been unable to work while replacement staff have not been available.
“To keep the health centre open, we did not have the necessary complement of staff to maintain safe operation at this time,” the spokesperson said. “Our goal remains to open as soon as we can safely do so.”
Charrier said concern in the community is growing as residents cannot access rapid COVID-19 tests and vaccines in a timely way. The flow of medication has been disrupted while the post office is closed.
Meanwhile, residents are worried about what could happen if the single ambulance in the district is busy during an emergency, she said.
On Jan. 17, Charrier sent a letter signed by more than 60 residents to Health Minister Audrey Gordon, the NRHA and a half-dozen other officials outlining the desperate situation in Leaf Rapids.
“Had we had a better system in place for the people in the North, maybe we wouldn’t be experiencing some of these issues right now,” Charrier said. “It’s been an ongoing issue for us in the community trying to seek just basic health care.”
Manitoba’s official Opposition held a news conference Thursday to bring attention to the closure of the Leaf Rapids Health Centre and delivery of health care in northern Manitoba.
“People in Leaf Rapids and Gillam, too, have been left on their own. They’ve been completely abandoned by this PC government,” said Tom Lindsey, NDP MLA for Flin Flon.
Gillam Hospital (750 km northeast of Winnipeg) closed Dec. 28, and reopened Jan. 5.
“It’s just pure luck that somebody hasn’t gotten seriously hurt so far. But we can’t depend on pure luck,” Lindsey said.
Health-care workers in the North are being pushed out of remote communities or driven out of their profession by their experience in the health system, the Opposition argued.
“Right now, the PC government just needs to put their ear to the ground and realize that local folks in these communities are saying that they have health-care resources, they just need some of the investment to make it happen,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
Lindsey called for an investigation into the reason nurses and other health-care staff are leaving the region.
“It’s like they’re actively being discouraged from being in the North,” he said.
A spokesperson for the NRHA said nearly 300 positions are advertised in the region, including a part-time position for a nurse in Leaf Rapids.
Town of Leaf Rapids chief administrative officer Kirk Glenday said responding to the closure of the health centre has been made more challenging due to a lack of communication from officials.
Glenday said he initially learned of the closure on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said his organization has met with NRHA officials to find sustainable solutions.
“In the shorter, more immediate term, we have pressed for urgent action on the reopening of the Leaf Rapids Health Centre,” Settee said in a statement. “The citizens of Leaf Rapids have the right to access health-care services.”
MKO will be procuring face masks, rapid tests and other personal protective equipment to deliver to the community on an urgent basis, he added.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.