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Morale teetering at Manitoba Clinic

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A doctor who works at the Manitoba Clinic says staff are trying to keep things business as usual for patients, while the site’s uncertain future weighs heavily on them.

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A doctor who works at the Manitoba Clinic says staff are trying to keep things business as usual for patients, while the site’s uncertain future weighs heavily on them.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said uncertainty, speculation and rumour haven’t been good for morale, which is “teetering.”

“It’s part of why people are leaving,” he said. “I’m hopeful that whether it’s government or one of the entities at Health Sciences Centre, somebody will see the value of the building and lease a chunk of it or own it outright. That’s the only way it survives.

Creditor protection proceedings are ongoing to restructure the Manitoba Clinic's finances. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“If it were to break down, I don’t think recreating it is a possibility.”

The Manitoba Clinic is the largest private medical clinic in the province and has been operating since 1946. It has been losing money since it moved to a new 133,000-square-foot building at 790 Sherbrook St. in 2018. The clinic is the largest tenant in the building, occupying 124,000 square feet. Some of that leased medical space remains vacant.

Creditor protection proceedings are ongoing to restructure the clinic’s finances, and clinic management is still trying to make a deal with the provincial government for a long-term lease or even a potential sale of the entire building, according to court filings.

Taking no issues with the way it has been managed, the doctor said he believes the clinic is in a precarious situation due to strokes of bad luck, including the loss of tenants and pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the physicians who have already left or are preparing to leave are looking for stability.

“A few I’ve spoken to are unhappy it’s come to this, but I think they feel they have no other option,” the doctor said. “People are making sure they’re in a stable environment.”

He said some physicians who’ve left are now working in offices in Winnipeg’s suburbs, which can be a more attractive option if it’s closer to home and in a new development with free and ample parking. Renting space near Health Sciences Centre is more expensive than renting an office in a suburban strip mall, he added.

Physicians will land on their feet if that happens, but patients, especially those in the under-served inner city, will suffer, he noted.

The doctor said he is staying put because he feels a commitment to core-area patients and enjoys working at the clinic.

It’s a rare situation for a private medical clinic, said Matt Maruca, a lawyer and consultant who has expertise in physician compensation.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any clinic filled with physicians close because of an economic issue. Generally speaking, medical care from physicians is pretty recession-proof. So to see this amount of financial disarray is really unique,” he said.

The Manitoba Clinic has been losing money since it moved to a new 133,000-square-foot building in 2018. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Maruca, who formerly worked as a senior executive for Doctors Manitoba, has no insider knowledge of the specific circumstances at Manitoba Clinic, but spoke generally about the economics of running a clinic.

The costs of running a clinic are typically almost entirely borne by the physicians who work within it. The doctors contribute a portion of their billings to pay for the clinic’s overhead costs, so a full roster of physicians is key to keeping the clinic running.

Most of the physicians who work at the Manitoba Clinic are specialists to whom patients are referred by family doctors, and the clinic was well known for having a large roster of pediatricians. They bill the province for their services, and those billings generated 90 per cent of the clinic’s revenue, according to court filings.

Access to health care is likely to suffer if the Manitoba Clinic can’t keep operating as a private clinic, Maruca said.

“The biggest loss would be access to health care by patients, unquestionably,” he said, noting the fee-for-service physicians work for themselves, independent from government, serving a high volume of patients.

“They work exceptionally hard and they work exceptionally long hours, and they’re very well paid for it, as they should be, but that type of volume of access is very unique to that type of private, fee-for-service clinic that I don’t know if a government facility could replicate at all, let alone easily.”

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Chris Kitching
Reporter

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

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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