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This article was published 2/5/2019 (625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen has brought in a consultant to review the Manitoba government's hospital reorganization plan, particularly the closure of the Concordia Hospital emergency room.
Dr. David Peachey, whose report four years ago provided the blueprint for the restructuring of Winnipeg's health system, began his work last week and is to report to Friesen later this month.
At a media briefing Thursday, Friesen said closure of Concordia's ER remains part of the government's hospital transformation plan.
However, it appears the review could at least delay plans to close the ER in June. In recent days, the health minister has refused to set a closure date, saying a number of pieces must fall into place before that occurs — including the completion of renovations to St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department.
Asked repeatedly Thursday whether the government was reconsidering the planned ER shutdown at Concordia, Friesen refused to give a yes or no answer.
He said he wouldn't prejudge any advice Peachey might give. But then he said it was a "remote possibility" the consultant would cast aside his initial recommendations.
At any rate, Friesen seemed to open the door a tiny crack to the possibility the ER would remain open — or that a compromise was possible that would allow some form of acute care to continue at the northeast Winnipeg hospital.
Friesen admitted orthopedic surgeons at the hospital have raised concerns about whether there would be adequate medical backup in place if the ER were to close.
Peachey will conduct a "quality assurance assessment" of the second phase of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's clinical consolidation plan, he said.
Also part of Phase 2 is the closure — slated for September — of the ER at Seven Oaks General Hospital. The ER would be replaced by an urgent care centre, handling less serious health issues. Victoria Hospital's ER was similarly replaced by an urgent care centre in the first phase of the consolidation plan.
Under the original plan, Winnipeg would be left with only three hospitals with emergency departments: Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital.
Friesen defended bringing in the consultant, saying it's good managerial practice to assess how a complex job is going.
"Manitobans should not be concerned about a government that is willing to conduct a quality assurance exercise," he said. "They should be concerned about a government that won't."
The health minister emphasized Peachey's return does not mean the government is rethinking its hospital overhaul: "Our path is clear. The transformation of the health-care system is necessary."
However, he noted it's been four years since Peachey submitted his initial proposals to the former NDP government.
In the two years since the Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister has begun to implement them, the demands on the health-care system in Winnipeg have grown, Friesen said. Ambulance arrivals at hospitals are up 12 per cent, while the number of patients "presenting" at local ERs and urgent care centres requiring hospitalization is up 11 per cent.
As well, the number of seniors in the northeast quadrant of Winnipeg served, in part, by Concordia Hospital has jumped by 8.4 per cent, the minister said.
The leaders of Manitoba's two opposition parties said the fact the government is bringing back the consultant at this stage of the game shows its hospital transformation plan is not working. Both called for the Progressive Conservatives to rethink the closure of the Concordia ER.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said, at the very least, the government should commit not to close the ER during an early election, if one is called as the premier has hinted.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it would be "dangerous" to conduct hip and knee replacements at Concordia if the ER were to be closed. He said the government's own wait times task force has said the Tories are moving ahead too quickly with hospital reorganization efforts.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said the review is proof the government knows "their plan isn't working."
In a statement, she said it's been clear from Day 1 the plan was more about saving money and balancing the government's books than improving health care.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.