The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is closing four QuickCare clinics, reducing hospital staffing, hiking fees for some seniors programs and contracting out services as it strives to meet a provincial government mandate to reduce costs by $83 million this year.

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This article was published 11/7/2017 (1377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is closing four QuickCare clinics, reducing hospital staffing, hiking fees for some seniors programs and contracting out services as it strives to meet a provincial government mandate to reduce costs by $83 million this year.

QuickCare clinics on Vermillion Road, Portage Avenue, Jefferson Avenue and Dakota Street will close by the end of January. The only one to remain will be the facility on McGregor Street in the North End, a high-volume clinic that treats a more vulnerable population, the WRHA said Tuesday.

The introduction of QuickCare clinics by the former NDP government was touted as a key to reducing wait times in hospital emergency rooms. Staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners, they were designed to divert patients with less serious illnesses and injuries from crowded ERs.

However, an inability to properly staff the clinics reduced their effectiveness, and ER waits in Winnipeg continued to be the longest in the country. The WRHA closed the St. Mary's Road location earlier this year.

Réal Cloutier, the WRHA's interim president and chief executive officer, refused Tuesday to categorize the introduction of QuickCare clinics as a failed experiment, saying they provided a good service.

"It’s a different lens, different environment, different time," he said of the factors that led to their demise, including a need to trim costs, new partnerships with private fee-for-service physicians and the establishment of a string of Access Centres in Winnipeg that combine clinic space and social service programs.

Much of the $900,000 saved in the current fiscal year by closing the QuickCare clinics will come from reduced rental costs. An untold number of staff and other resources are expected to be transferred to the city's seven Access Centres, whose hours will be extended.

Meanwhile, the WRHA said staffing ratios in its hospital system are too high, and it put several unions on notice Tuesday that changes are coming.

In early April, the authority and the Manitoba government under Premier Brian Pallister announced a reorganization of hospital services that will result in three hospitals – Concordia, Victoria and Seven Oaks – lose their emergency rooms and intensive care units. Those hospitals will require lower staffing levels than they do now, Cloutier said.

The savings from the reduced staffing are expected to amount to $6 million to $8 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year, the WRHA estimates.

The health authority said it remained confident "jobs will be available to nurses who wish to remain in the WRHA," but offered no assurances to health-care aides.

Cloutier, who recently took on the CEO position on an acting basis after the WRHA board parted ways with Milton Sussman, said he could not estimate how many jobs would be lost as a result of the staffing changes.

"How this translates into the number of employees is going to depend on how our discussions go with the unions," he said.

The WRHA also announced increases in fees paid by seniors for three programs, including for an adult day program run by some personal care homes and for a transportation service to a geriatric day hospital.

As well, beginning in October, adult outpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics – with some exceptions – will be moved outside hospitals and taken over by private practice providers. Exceptions will include specialized rehab services at Health Sciences Centre and services for "underprivileged Winnipeggers without private insurance," the WRHA said.

The cost-savings measures announced Tuesday also extend to food services. Grace Hospital will no longer operate its own cafeteria; that service will be contracted out. As well there will be a further centralization in the provision of food services for patients. Affected facilities include Deer Lodge Centre and Middlechurch personal care home.

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said her members remain concerned about the impact of the many health-care changes announced in recent months on patient care.

Unfortunately, she said, "It seems like every announcement just adds a new layer of chaos and confusion."

While Mowat is hopeful extended clinic hours at Access Centres will mean more opportunities for treatment, she’s concerned about what the communication strategy will be once most of the QuickCare clinics close their doors.

The president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said the WRHA is making too many changes too fast and the public is going to pay the price.

"It is going to be massive confusion," said Michelle Gawronsky. "They’re doing so many changes without actually taking the time to ensure that their services are going to be there for the public."

Gawronsky was in a meeting with WRHA officials Tuesday morning just before it announced its new plans. As soon as the PowerPoint presentation clicked on, she said, she knew something big was coming. Even still, the extent of the WRHA’s latest reorganization efforts "was a surprise."

"It’s going to take a long time for the public to even understand," said Gawronsky, who noted WRHA officials didn’t even seem to fully understand their own plan.

"One of the questions I asked them," she said, "is you seem to have a good plan in place on what you’re cutting and hacking and the programs you’re closing, but you don’t seem to have a good plan in place on how you’re going to ensure that we get good health care here in the city of Winnipeg."

Gawronsky, whose union represents the vast majority of the support staff in hospitals across the city, said the WRHA had no answer. It’s time for the public to step up, she said, and start questioning their MLAs.

NDP health critic Matt Wiebe said the closure of QuickCare clinics means fewer "access points" to the city's health system and greater pressure on existing clinics.

"Today, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority admitted it was making further major reductions in medical services across the city in direct response to the Pallister government’s directive to cut $83 million from its budget," Wiebe said. "Brian Pallister’s promise to protect front-line health services is in tatters because of his uncompromising austerity plan."

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen was away from Winnipeg on government business when the WRHA announced the latest round of cuts.

He issued a statement saying Manitoba has spent more per-capita on health care than nearly every other province, yet wait times for emergency health care, diagnostic testing and necessary surgeries consistently rank worst in the country.

"While any change can be difficult, no one with experience in our health-care system will argue that change is not necessary," he said. "Experts have told us that the health-care system in Manitoba is not sustainable without significant change and by acting on the recommendations of clinical experts like Dr. David Peachey and health system experts like KPMG, we can create more efficient system that provides better patient care."

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

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.

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