Rural, northern Manitoba communities without emergency room or physician coverage

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GIMLI — Communities across rural and northern Manitoba are without emergency room or physician coverage over the August long weekend due to persistent shortages of doctors and nurses.

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GIMLI — Communities across rural and northern Manitoba are without emergency room or physician coverage over the August long weekend due to persistent shortages of doctors and nurses.

Gimli’s hospital didn’t have a doctor in its emergency department for part of Saturday, as thousands of people visited the town for the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba.

“We experienced a last minute sick call in Gimli and that has influenced scheduled physician availability,” Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority CEO Marion Ellis said in a statement.

Gimli’s hospital didn’t have a doctor in its emergency department for part of Saturday, as thousands of people visited the town for the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

People were encouraged to call 911 or their local 10-digit number in the event of an emergency.

The RHA publicizes doctors availability in Interlake-East hospital ERs on its website.

Shifts at Gimli Commmunity Health Centre (Johnson Memorial Hospital) start at 9 a.m. and end at 9 a.m. the next day, according to the website.

The latest doctor availability schedule, which was updated Friday, stated a doctor would be available Saturday from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. Sunday.

Lynn Greenberg, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Gimli, said council receives reports of shortages at the hospital “every once in awhile.”

“A lot of rural hospitals are facing the same situation right now,” he said. “It’s been ongoing since COVID, the shortage of health-care people.”

Greenberg said nurses and other staff at the hospital are able to handle “situations” when a doctors isn’t on shift.

“If somebody has to be transferred to Selkirk (to see a doctor), that’s what they’ll do,” he said.

Greenberg said the RHA does a “pretty good job” of managing the situation when it happens.

Like other health authorities in Manitoba, Interlake-East has been trying to recruit staff for its facilities, he said.

Jenna Boholij, president of the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, said St. John Ambulance members are on hand at the four-day event to provide first aid.

“We hired them all weekend so we have a presence here at the festival,” she said.

According to data from Doctors Manitoba, about one-third of all ERs in rural and northern Manitoba are closed over the long weekend.

Of the 68 ERs, 22 are fully closed, said Keir Johnson, a spokesman for the organization, which represents doctors in the province.

Only 26 are open 25/7, while another 22 have frequent closures or reduced hours of operation.

Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Candace Bradshaw said more ERs are closed this summer than ever before in rural and northern areas.

“Physicians in these communities have never been more concerned,” she said. “Changing schedules are making it difficult to keep track of which communities have an open ER.”

Closures in rural areas can lead to back-up in Winnipeg, where ERs have record wait times, said Bradshaw.

“The main issue is severe shortages of doctors, nurses and other health care workers,” she said. “This leaves many rural ERs just one sick call away from having an unexpected or unplanned closure.”

Doctors Manitoba encourages people to plan ahead and check local ER schedules before visiting.

In Interlake-East, the ERs in Arborg, Eriksdale, Pinawa and Teulon do not have a doctor this long weekend, according to the online schedule

Pine Falls’s ER is scheduled to have a doctor on site from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. all three days. The ER reopened to the public July 18.

“The initial phase of reopening the emergency department is made possible by the successful recruitment of a nursing manager to the site,” an RHA news release stated. “In addition, Shared Health is providing additional staffing support with paramedics taking shifts in the emergency department.”

Stonewall’s emergency department is due to be without a physician Monday.

Other health authorities are feeling a staffing crunch.

In the Prairie Mountain Health region in western Manitoba, emergency departments are closed at sites in Boissevain, Carberry, Glenboro, Melita, Shoal Lake, Treherne and Winnipegosis all weekend.

The closures in Melita, Shoal Lake, Treherne and Winnipegosis are longer-term. None of those ERs is expected to reopen for several more weeks.

In Winnipeg, patients faced long waits at emergency departments Saturday afternoon, including eight hours at Health Sciences Centre’s adult ER and five hours at the children’s, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s website.

The waits at St. Boniface and Grace hospitals were 6.5 and 5.75 hours, respectively.

In-patients at a hospital in northern Manitoba are being transferred to a facility about 250 kilometres away due to a shortage of staff.

In a memo, Northern Health said patients at Lynn Lake, about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, are being moved to Flin Flon’s hospital in phases.

The transfer is necessary because the ongoing staff shortage has created a situation where only minimum staffing levels are available.

That “resulted in an inability to maintain safe patient care,” Scott Hamel, Northern Health’s acting CEO, wrote in the memo.

Hospitals in Manitoba are not allowed to have in-patients if a nurse is not on site at all times, according to provincial regulations.

It is unclear when Lynn Lake’s hospital will begin admitting in-patients again. The hospital’s emergency department is still open and staffed 24 hours a day.

Leaf Rapids’s ER is closed from July 13 to Aug. 31 due to a staff shortage. The nearest ER is in Lynn Lake, which is about an hour’s drive away.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Saturday, July 30, 2022 4:39 PM CDT: Adds comment from Dr. Candace Bradshaw

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