Surgery backlog, St. Boniface ER big-ticket items in health budget

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The provincial government will spend more than $200 million this year to tackle the massive backlog of surgeries and expand emergency room capacity, while slashing its COVID-19 response budget.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2022 (232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The provincial government will spend more than $200 million this year to tackle the massive backlog of surgeries and expand emergency room capacity, while slashing its COVID-19 response budget.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said his government will spend a combined $7.2 billion to deliver health care, mental health and addictions services, a new seniors strategy and deliver promised improvements to long term care in 2022-23, representing a 2.5 per cent spending increase over last year.

The provincial budget, unveiled Tuesday, includes $9 million to fund 28 new critical care beds provincewide; $100 million for the redevelopment of the St. Boniface Hospital emergency department; and $110 million to expedite an estimated 167,000 surgical and diagnostic cases that were delayed due to the pandemic.

The province will spend $110 million to expedite an estimated 167,000 surgical and diagnostic cases that were delayed due to the pandemic. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Our government is very serious about driving down these times that were elongated as a consequence of a global pandemic,” Friesen said. “That’s why we’re putting a very significant effort into combating that.”

The money for the backlog is in addition to the $50 million the province set aside earlier, bringing the total amount budgeted to $160 million. The province said all of the $50 million set aside last year has been spent or allocated.

On Tuesday, Premier Heather Stefanson refused to give a target date to clear the backlog, saying her government will leave the details to experts on the recovery task force.

“We heard loud and clear from Manitobans that they want that to be a priority and that’s why we made that a priority in this budget,” the premier said.

“Let me be very clear about this: we will do whatever it takes to ensure that we get the resources to those who need it to tackle the surgical and diagnostic backlogs.”

Friesen said the government will triple the size of the emergency department at St. Boniface Hospital at a cost of more than $100 million. However, he could not say when work would begin.

“I’ve seen plans for this. It will be stunning when completed,” Friesen said, adding the emergency department was in clear need of investment. “If you’ve ever renovated an old house, you know it’s not easy when you get into the walls of a 100-hundred-year-old hospital.”

Budget documents show core health spending will increase by 1.59 per cent this year to $6.687 billion, an increase of $105 million. Estimated funding for health authorities will increase by $101.7 million, or 2.6 per cent, to $3.99 billion.

The province has pledged $100 million for the redevelopment of the St. Boniface Hospital emergency department. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Funding for mental health, addictions, and community wellness has been topped up by roughly $16 million to $399 million.

Friesen said about $1 million will go toward increasing capacity and operating hours at two Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine clinics in Winnipeg. The province will also fund 40 new supportive recovery units and six new crisis stabilization beds in Winnipeg.

“We are investing in core services, we are increasing the capacity right across the landscape, everything from addictions to eating disorders, to psychiatric and psychological services in Manitoba, both when they are emergency needed at hospital and in community,” he said.

The long-term care sector will get an estimated three per cent increase in funding, after the province committed roughly $15 million for infection prevention and control and to add 244 more full-time positions in care homes.

The seniors and long term care department has also been given $54 million to implement the recommendations of the Stevenson report (into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Maples Personal Care Home). Approximately $20 million has been targeted towards a new seniors strategy and another $32 million will be set aside for improvements.

The province opted to cut its contingencies and COVID-19 response budget in half, from a forecast $1.2 billion to $630 million.

The emergency fund will also support the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees who arrive in Manitoba and could be tapped if more money is needed to address the surgical and diagnostic backlog, Friesen said.

The minister argued the budgeted contingency amount — meant to support the provincial response should COVID-19 once again push the health care system to the limit or spark a large-scale public health response — aligns with other jurisdictions.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We look at the path out of the pandemic — and I agree we’re not there yet. We’ve still got Omicron and subvariants that are impacting us — but we look at what we’ve invested before, and we look at what traditionally, or conventionally pandemics have done, essentially over time they do burn themselves out,” he said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew argued the Tory budget will lead to cuts in health care and fewer people at the bedside.

“We would welcome investments in health care, but at this point, who can believe the PCs?” Kinew said. “The PCs continuously under-spend, they make the big announcement, but when it comes time to put in the work, that’s where they fall short.”

— with files from Carol Sanders

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 11:47 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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