Melita seeks long-term solution to ER summer closure
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Caught off guard by a two-month closure of their local hospital, more than 200 residents of Melita and surrounding rural communities showed up at a public meeting Tuesday evening to figure out how to preserve health-care services.
Melita’s hospital is one of several rural health centres and emergency departments forced to close temporarily or operate on reduced hours this summer. It closed June 30 and will remain closed until the end of August because of staff shortages.
The hospital serves about 3,000 to 3,500 people who live in the southwest corner of the province that stretches west to the Saskatchewan border and south to the U.S. border. The hospital lab remains open, but all other health-care services are suspended — a move that will have many local residents travelling as far as Brandon for emergency care.
Melita Mayor Bill Holden said he’s confident after Tuesday’s meeting the town will be able to work with Prairie Mountain health region, the provincial government, and representatives from all major political parties to improve access to health care in the area.
“We were totally blindsided by the closure, so the idea of working with us now to try and solve the problem is a big step forward. We had no idea this was coming,” he said Wednesday.
Nurses from Melita were re-assigned to work in Deloraine and Reston so those communities could keep their personal-care homes open. Nurse shortages are being felt everywhere, Holden said.
College training programs for nurse practitioners and health-care aides have been popular in Melita in years past, and they should run again, he said.
Holden would like to see the community transition to having a 24/7 urgent care centre, staffed largely with nurse practitioners, instead of trying to maintain an ER. The town only has one full-time doctor, who is in his 80s and currently on holidays. Prior to this summer closure, the ER operated an average of 10 days per month.
“So, that system hasn’t been working for a while. I mean, it’s been tough. Every time (our doctor) goes away, we have to close down our emergency and transfer out any patients that are in the hospital,” the mayor said, emphasizing patient transfers disrupt already short-staffed rural ambulance service.
“It’s tough, and we’re not the only ones.”
Residents who attended the public meeting and spoke to the Free Press Wednesday said they saw the summer shutdown as a long time coming.
Diane Tilbury, 60, has lived in Melita her whole life. She said she’s been lucky the town’s ER has always been open when she’s needed it, but she knows others who’ve had to travel to other communities to get medical treatment.
“Being in a rural community, that’s just what happens,” she said.
Prairie Mountain health authority CEO Brian Schoonbaert was at the meeting to answer residents’ questions. Tilbury is hopeful health officials are working on a long-term solution so the hospital can reopen full-time in September.
“I have hope that they’re going to do what they say,” Tilbury said.
Wayne Sonnenberg said he would like to see more doctors work in the community to restore 24/7 ER service. The closest ERs also have rolling shutdowns, so residents need to check which is open before heading out.
“You’ve got to look around to find out where you can go for an emergency (room), and sometimes, you don’t have that much time to look to find out where to go,” said Sonnenberg, who has lived in Melita since 1983.
Emergency health care is crucial in the area, especially considering the potential for accidents and injuries stemming from the area’s main industries: oil, agriculture and trucking.
“Something’s going to have to change, because we need more than ten days a month for an emergency service,” he said, noting he has already made a recent trip to Virden because of the Melita hospital closure.
Prairie Mountain Health didn’t respond to the Free Press Wednesday.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.