More than 1,600 workers battling the pandemic braced for more upheaval after the Manitoba government said it would forge ahead with the second wave of health-care restructuring.
Health Minister Heather Stefanson and Mental Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced the plan on Wednesday.
"Key information management and public health roles (will be) consolidated within Manitoba Health and Seniors Care, while an integrated mental health and addictions service (will be) established within Shared Health, Health and Seniors Care."
"By establishing a solid foundation within Shared Health, we will be able to adopt new and improved ways of delivering care provincially, in ways that improve access to these vital services closer to home for many Manitobans," Gordon said in a news release.
Responsibility will be given to Shared Health, or another entity to be established by government, for Cadham Provincial Laboratory, Selkirk Mental Health Centre, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba; as well as some employees who currently work in the Department of Health and Seniors Care, the Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery; and the Department of Central Services.
The changes were identified by the 2018 health system transformation blueprint, the province said, and the transfer won't take place before May 20.
The reorganization represents yet another stressful challenge for health-care and front-line workers, who are coping with the challenges of COVID-19, says the head of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.
"It is very concerning that this government would trigger such large-scale disruption for health-care staff and operations in the middle of the ongoing pandemic," union president Michelle Gawronsky said in an email.
"Many of the impacted members are focused on processing COVID-19 tests. Others are providing mental health and addictions treatment at a time when we know the need for these services has never been greater," Gawronsky said. Health workers are busy keeping the system going while it is under tremendous strain, she said.
"It is simply unconscionable that the government would add the disruption, anxiety, and risk associated with implementing large-scale restructuring on our health-care system," Gawronsky said.
Critics said the timing of the announcement and the restructuring — on a day when the news media is focused on the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and during a pandemic — is telling.
"The government shouldn't be using the pandemic as cover to try and sneak through significant changes to the health-care system they had planned long before COVID-19," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
He's especially concerned about "turning the management of Cadham lab upside down during the pandemic."
"I don't think they should be making these huge changes to the very office that is doing the testing for COVID," said Kinew. "It's an opportunity for more mistakes to creep into our pandemic response."
Pushing ahead with "transformation" while COVID-19 is raging is "absolutely irresponsible and reckless," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said. The timing of the announcement, he said, suggests the Tories don't want much publicity.
"It's inauguration day in the United States. It's pretty clear what's going to be the lead story tomorrow... It's not going to be the fact that the Pallister government, in the middle of a pandemic, is still pursuing more upheaval and more changes to the health-care system," Lamont said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.