Victoria General Hospital's emergency department and Misericordia Health Centre's urgent-care clinic will cease to exist Oct. 3, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Wednesday.

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Victoria General Hospital's emergency department and Misericordia Health Centre's urgent-care clinic will cease to exist Oct. 3, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Wednesday.

Victoria's ER will become an urgent-care centre and Misericordia's space will be converted into a community intravenous-care clinic.

"Oct. 3 will be a very important date for us," WRHA vice-president Lori Lamont told a news conference called to publicize the authority's two-year timelines that will drastically overhaul health-care delivery in Winnipeg hospitals.

Phase 1, which will result in the Victoria and Misericordia transitions, will run through the winter of 2018; phase 2 will deal with the closure of the emergency departments at Seven Oaks General Hospital and Concordia Hospital. Dates for those closures will depend on how long it takes to complete the expansion of Grace Hospital's emergency department, Lamont said.

Once Grace has its additional capacity — potentially next spring or summer — the Seven Oaks ER will become an urgent-care centre while Concordia shifts to transitional and complex continuing care.

The ER closings are the most significant elements in the massive overhaul that will result in dozens of services, units and departments consolidated and shifted among the city's major health-care facilities. Emergency services will be available only at the Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface General Hospital and Grace Hospital.

"It's emotional, I understand that," Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said. "The system isn't doing well. We're not doing well when it comes to wait times.

"The plan is based on the best evidence, on what is working in other provinces," he said. "To do nothing was never an option."

The province will continuously monitor the impact of changes, but has not set any specific date by when it must mark improvement or when it hopes to catch up to the national average, he said.

Lamont said the transition times involving closing some units and moving others will aim to "minimize the impact on patients" and avoid mass transfers of patients. The WRHA has met with more than 3,000 staff and continues to assure employees everyone who wants a job will still have one, she said.

"We recognize the process will be disruptive," said WRHA senior legal counsel Karlee Blatz, adding staff in a unit that's being moved elsewhere will get first shot at moving to the new facility. "We'll be targeting the specialty-care areas first."

NDP health critic Matt Wiebe accused the WRHA of moving far too quickly to satisfy political orders.

"It's an incredibly tight timeline. The WRHA is scrambling to backfill decisions that have been made," he said. "We just don't think the resources will be there."

Goertzen countered the NDP did nothing for 15 years while Manitoba's wait times were the worst in Canada, and asked how long New Democrats think residents should wait for positive changes.

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, a physician, pointed out a dedicated stroke centre is not part of the plan.

"The PC plan to close Misericordia urgent-care centre is wrong, misguided and a tragic mistake," he said. "I am not convinced that closing Victoria and Seven Oaks hospitals' ERs and replacing them with urgent-care centres is the best option, but whatever is done should have a much better level of community and staff consultation than has occurred to date. Concordia Hospital should also have an urgent-care centre."

WRHA vice-president of finance Glenn McLellan told the news conference the permanent changes will save $31 million a year -- part of the $83 million the province told the WRHA to reduce in its budget. The agency is cutting management 15 per cent, as the province directed, and is finding sweeping efficiencies and better ways to do its job -- and the consolidation of services is part of that, he said.

Communications director Leah Janzen said the WRHA plans to launch an extensive education campaign so members of the public know where and when to go for various medical services. As the transition plays out over the next two years, the WRHA website will feature an updated interactive map so people can find the closest appropriate service available.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca