Another doctor is leaving Winnipeg’s health-care system out of frustration with Manitoba’s troubled sector reforms, while calling on Shared Health executives to resign.
"It’s been this phenomenally sluggish, constipated change process. I see my colleagues’ morale and it’s horrible," Dr. Sandor Demeter told the Free Press.
"We’re also going to be in a staffing crisis at some point in the near future."
Demeter announced his resignation from Health Sciences Centre’s nuclear medicine department in a Monday blog post, writing it’s really Shared Health leaders who should be the ones leaving their jobs.
"Our health-care system is certainly broken now, and Shared Health leadership should be held accountable to fix it, or step aside and let someone else do it," he wrote.
The Winnipeg hospital hired Demeter in 2002, and praised him in 2005 for his work in bringing positron emission tomography to Manitoba. That cutting-edge technology scans patients for information on issues such as cancer, beyond what typical CT and MRI scans can provide.
Yet the machine isn’t able to do its main job of detecting cancers early, owing to understaffing that has created a month-long wait for access, he said.
Someone with early cancer should get a scan immediately, so a followup scan a month later can suggest whether they have received an appropriate chemotherapy regimen, Demeter said Wednesday in an interview.
He blamed the backlog on "a dysfunctional bureaucratic quagmire" that predated the Progressive Conservatives forming government in 2016. However, he claimed it only got worse with "cut-to-the-bone fiscal austerity" since the 2018 formation of Shared Health.
Manitoba’s chaotic reforms have been unlike anything he’s seen working in three other provinces, Demeter said.
"There are so many obvious issues that are impacting staff morale, that are not part of any standard change-management process," he said.
"We’ve gone through this period of really erosion management, where they cut health-care spending to the bone and they only deal with big cracks that appear in an exceptional crisis mode."
Demeter said he left his job because of cost-cutting, combined with a lack of clear direction over health-care reforms, which he stressed aren’t a bad idea but have been poorly implemented.
For example, provincial policies delayed the replacement of an aging scanning machine, which was ultimately installed in a less-than-optimal site within HSC in order to save costs, he said.
Shared Health said it didn’t have enough time Wednesday to respond to the doctor’s comments.
The Liberals brought up the blog post in the legislature Wednesday, arguing multiple resignations speak to a serious problem in Manitoba hospitals.
In recent weeks, the Free Press has reported on both a neurosurgeon and a neurologist opting to leave Manitoba over frustrations with the province’s management of the health system.
"Doctors and nurses are leaving health care, because the PCs have made it impossible to work there," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said, arguing the issue stems from cutbacks.
Interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen responded that the issue is related to Ottawa’s insufficient health transfers, adding the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has ramped up its efforts to recruit specialists.
"We know that when it comes to specialists there’s always been a challenge in terms of recruitment and retaining specialists in the medical system," Goertzen told the legislature.
"It’s not just a Manitoba challenge; it’s a national problem."
The issue goes beyond funding, Demeter said, adding that a lack of clear planning in everything from consolidating emergency rooms to designing the leadership structure within Shared Health has led colleagues to quit.
It’s not just their workload; the staff float around for years without a clear sense of what their department or supervisor will look like in a few months, and throw in the towel, he said.
"This story is a microcosm of the bigger picture."
Demeter pointed to three- and four-year vacancies within HSC’s diagnostics section, leaving staff to do multiple jobs in hopes of advancing to leadership roles that haven’t been created because there’s still no departmental plan.
He has given six months’ notice to his department that he’ll leave HSC in December. Demeter will continue teaching radiology and health policy at the University of Manitoba, and hopes to continue other clinical roles within the WRHA, if the province doesn’t freeze him out for speaking up.
"I wanted to express how sad it feels to go through this, and I’m not going to be able to make positive changes internally," he said. "It was far too frustrating and stressful to carry on."