Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he's perplexed that Winnipeg health administrators have cancelled a pair of telephone town hall meetings with staff this week to discuss plans to convert Concordia Hospital's emergency room into an urgent care centre.
But he realizes officials may not have had enough time to come up with all the answers to health workers' questions.
Friesen's comments to reporters on Thursday underscore the challenges hospital officials face as they attempt to meet a June 30 government-imposed deadline to establish an urgent care centre at the northeast Winnipeg hospital.
The Pallister government had only announced its new plan for Concordia a week earlier. It's unknown whether senior health administrators had more than a few days' notice of the change in plans, which has implications for hospital staffing across the city.
Unions that represent a cross-section of hospital workers said Thursday that they've yet to hear any details on how their members will be affected.
Hospital administrators and officials with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health (the recently created provincial health authority) have been working out staffing details, complicated by the fact that many of Concordia's ER workers, from doctors and nurses to allied professionals and support staff, have either been laid off or already made arrangements to work elsewhere.
WRHA officials have not done interviews this week to discuss the challenges they face.
But Friesen said Thursday they have assured him they are committed to meeting his June 30 deadline.
"There are many meetings. There is much planning taking place even right now," the minister said.
"Certainly... when the WRHA indicates that there will be a public forum and then they cancel it, you've raised expectations and then you have let people down. And that perplexes me," he said of the postponed staff meetings.
"I would imagine that the commitment that the WRHA has to being accountable to provide good information remains. And it would be my suspicion that just in this case, (administrators) wanted a little bit more time to get that messaging right, to have enough content to share."
The staffing challenges are significant. For example, a source told the Free Press that 18 Concordia ER nurses were to transfer to St. Boniface Hospital — along with equipment — to staff additional high-acuity beds there effective mid-June. Now, it's unknown whether the nurses are still going to be moving.
It's also unknown whether orthopedic surgeons at Concordia will be satisfied with the level of medical backup they will receive from an urgent care centre, rather than the current ER and intensive care unit. They had been very concerned about the previous plan, which would have seen a 12-hour per day walk-in clinic replace the current around-the-clock ER.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew described the hospital reorganization plan Thursday as "chaotic" and "rushed." He said it doesn't appear as though decisions are being made "with the best interests of patients in mind."
The NDP has opposed the planned ER closures. So far, one of the six city hospital emergency rooms has closed — Victoria Hospital's ER was converted to an urgent care centre last fall. Concordia's is set to close in June, while the ER at Seven Oaks Hospital is slated to convert to an urgent care centre in September.
That will leave three hospitals with emergency rooms: Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital.
Meanwhile, the WRHA issued a two-paragraph statement late Thursday saying it appreciates that health staff and the public want more information about the changes, "and we remain committed to providing updates as early and often as possible."
The health authority said it would hold meetings with hospital staff and reschedule "telephone town halls for staff across our region" once it "can confirm operational and staffing adjustments…"
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.