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Health-care union blasts proposed Niverville MRI clinic

Public-private partnership aimed at serving third-party insurers and patients who travel to U.S. for tests

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A union representing health-care support workers in southern Manitoba is pushing back against the Town of Niverville’s plan to open an MRI clinic it says is neither public nor private.

The president of CUPE local 4270 said the plan for a diagnostics centre replete with an MRI, ultrasound machine and X-ray capabilities runs contrary to the Canadian principle of universal access to health care.

“It’s obviously private; not everybody can use it with fees of anywhere between $1,000 and $1,300,” Darrin Cook said.

But Gordon Daman, a member of the non-profit Niverville Heritage Holdings Inc. (NHHI) board, which brokered the deal with the town, Liver Care Canada and two individuals, said that’s not the case.

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A union representing health-care support workers in southern Manitoba is pushing back against the Town of Niverville’s plan to open an MRI clinic it says is neither public nor private.

The president of CUPE local 4270 said the plan for a diagnostics centre replete with an MRI, ultrasound machine and X-ray capabilities runs contrary to the Canadian principle of universal access to health care.

"It’s obviously private; not everybody can use it with fees of anywhere between $1,000 and $1,300," Darrin Cook said.

But Gordon Daman, a member of the non-profit Niverville Heritage Holdings Inc. (NHHI) board, which brokered the deal with the town, Liver Care Canada and two individuals, said that’s not the case.

"This is not private nor public, it’s a third way," Daman said.

"Ultimately, this is similar to a P3 (public-private partnership) project."

While Liver Care Canada will finance the endeavour to the tune of between $4 million and $5 million, a legal agreement stipulates that in 25 years the land will revert to the town, leaving it as the public owner of a fully outfitted diagnostic centre.

Daman previously told the Free Press the plan was to take on the clients of third-party insurers to free up their guaranteed spots in the public system, but also to charge people who would otherwise drive south of the border for an MRI instead of waiting.

That last point, in particular, doesn’t sit well with Cook.

"Canadian health care isn’t supposed to cost you," he said.

"It doesn’t matter whether you’re a minimum-wage earner or a doctor... where your standing is in society shouldn’t matter to your health."

This isn’t the solution to long wait times, Cook stressed, pointing to the scathing report the Manitoba auditor general released in April that took aim at long delays, unnecessary and inappropriate scans, as well as preferential access.

In that 43-page document, the auditor general put forward a whole host of recommendations that include standardizing requisitions and implementing better scheduling practices to maximize the number of scans being done.

"I think it should be the same across the board for everybody. That’s our concern," Cook said.

But Daman said that ultimately the new Niverville centre, slated to open in the fall of 2018, will help alleviate pressure on the public system.

"We are first and foremost providing an opportunity for organizations like Manitoba Public Insurance and Workers Compensation to have an option outside the current (Winnipeg) system. That would immediately open up a number of spaces to the public who are waiting," he said.

The fact the provincial government has not been involved in the project so far strikes Cook as odd.

"It seems weird that some private group would go out and initiate something like this. There’s got to be all kinds of rules and regulations," he said.

No one at Liver Care Canada’s London, Ont., headquarters could be reached for comment.

Regardless of whether the new diagnostics centre is owned by the town or the company, it will have to be inspected in order to receive accreditation by the Manitoba Quality Assurance Program (MANQAP), the registrar for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba said via email.

The college oversees that process, and has "the authority to grant permission to open, subject to the MANQAP’s findings at the opening inspection," a spokeswoman wrote.

And while the college has a committee that ensures any diagnostics centre is appropriately staffed with qualified employees, the question of regulating access to MRIs falls to the government.

A spokeswoman for the health minister and a spokeswoman for Manitoba Health both declined to comment, saying neither party has seen the proposal.

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Jane Gerster.

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Updated on Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 9:12 AM CDT: Edited

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