A new poll shows the Progressive Conservative government’s prescription of closing three emergency rooms in Winnipeg is a bitter pill to swallow.
A Probe Research poll, commissioned by the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, found only 27 per cent of Winnipeggers agree with the changes announced in April by the government.
The poll also shows 60 per cent of Winnipeggers, or three in five, believe the changes will make wait times in emergency rooms increase, and only 16 per cent believe the city has too many emergency rooms.
MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said she’s not surprised by the poll’s findings.
"It reverberates totally with what we’ve been saying all along," Gawronsky said Monday. "It isn’t a surprise to us. It is the confirmation.
"All Canada Day, people were coming up to me and thanking me for speaking out against the reforms. Manitobans understand how important ERs and hospitals are to them.
"I don’t think they (the government) know what Manitobans are feeling."
In April, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Seven Oaks, Victoria and Concordia hospitals were losing their emergency rooms, with 24-hour urgent care centres opening at Seven Oaks and Victoria.
Goertzen also announced the closure of Misericordia Health Centre’s urgent care clinic, with the space to be used for intravenous therapy, and said Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital would continue to offer full ER and surgical services.
The changes are based on recommendations in a report commissioned by the former NDP government that concluded the city could make do with fewer emergency rooms because Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa had fewer ERs per capita yet had shorter wait times.
Since then, union members, health-care professionals and Winnipeggers have held rallies objecting to the changes outside the targeted facilities.
"Winnipeg has more emergency rooms than bigger cities such as Vancouver and Calgary and yet our wait times are longer because our health human resources are spread too thinly across the system," Goertzen said in a statement to the Free Press.
"The vast majority of Winnipegers believe emergency room wait times are too long and change is needed. The best way to act upon that is to follow the advice of experts and research, and by doing that we look forward to improving health care for all Manitobans."
Other findings of the poll include that women, at 68 per cent, are more likely to believe wait times will be longer compared with 52 per cent of men, and are also, at 59 per cent compared with 49 per cent of men, more opposed to the ER changes.
A majority of both NDP supporters, at 80 per cent, and Tory supporters, at 60 per cent, don’t think Winnipeg has too many ERs.
In the northeast area of Winnipeg, where Concordia Hospital is located, 60 per cent of the people polled who live there say they strongly agree ER wait times will increase, while 52 per cent strongly disagree with the reforms.
Gawronsky said the poll will help the union as it continues to argue against the proposals.
"We’re not saying no changes should be done," she said.
"We’re saying slow down, take a breath and listen to people. They ran on a platform saying they would protect services to Manitobans, but it just seems every announcement is for a drastic cut."
Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said she’s also not surprised about the results of the poll.
"People say this to me all the time," Mowat said.
"I’m concerned about Misericordia. It has very significant numbers and low wait times. We’re very concerned where these people are going to go. We know a little over 25 per cent of the people who go there are from the Wolseley area itself and walk there. Many of them don’t have money for a cab... they will walk to the Health Sciences Centre’s ER."
NDP health critic Matt Wiebe said the poll mirrors what people have been telling him, whether in person, through 6,000-plus names on a petition or from health professionals on the front lines of health care.
"People say it defies common sense to close ERs and have shorter wait times," Wiebe said.
"I think this is a time for the government to listen to patients and front-line workers. I think there is still an opportunity to reverse the changes.
"I hope it’s not too late to change their minds."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
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