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Surgical procedures at Flin Flon General Hospital have been suspended following the departure of the operating room’s surgeon and anesthetist.
The Northern Regional Health Authority was left with "no other choice" but to suspend OR services, a spokesperson said, after Dr. Rashid Abulhoda (the hospital’s general surgeon) left March 20, followed by anesthetist Dr. Eiman Rahimi on April 17.
"In the short term, a contingency plan has been developed that will see all surgical cases presenting to the Flin Flon General Hospital being transferred to The Pas or Winnipeg, as is deemed clinically appropriate," the spokesperson said in a statement to the Free Press.
"We know realistically that we are up against a national shortage of core specialists like anesthetists and surgeons."
The health authority declined to comment on the nature of the departures. Abulhoda and Rahimi are no longer listed in the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba directory of practising physicians.
The NRHA said the general surgeon averaged less than 10 surgeries a month and its latest annual report states the anesthetist had reduced hours to half-time.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson raised alarm over the future of surgical procedures in Flin Flon after five operating room nurses received employment security notices April 22, indicating staff could apply for open positions elsewhere in the health system.
"Nurses are committed to that community and that facility," Jackson said. "They live there and that’s where they raise their kids, but now I think they’re really unsure about their future, both with the community and with the facility.
"Nurses are concerned because this leaves this community without access to an essential health service," she said. "This forces not only residents of Flin Flon, but residents of the catchment area, to travel farther for care, and that’s definitely a concern."
The hospital’s obstetrics program was suspended by the NRHA in November 2018, due to a lack of "consistent obstetrical coverage," after the departure of the hospital’s obstetrician. The service has yet to be reinstated.
"This is just another area of worry and anxiety for that entire community," Jackson said. "This government really needs to start looking at how they’re going to recruit and retain physicians out into the rural areas."
Extensive planning between Manitoba Health, Shared Health and the regional health authority on the future of the hospital has been ongoing, the NRHA spokesperson said, and is based on the province’s preventive clinical services plan.
"Nurses are concerned because this leaves this community without access to an essential health service. This forces not only residents of Flin Flon, but residents of the catchment area, to travel farther for care, and that’s definitely a concern." – Darlene Jackson, Manitoba Nurses Union president
The plan (released in November) set a framework to increase access to primary and community care for rural and northern residents, and to reduce trips to Winnipeg for services.
"Permanently shuttering operating rooms is the last thing this government should be doing in a health pandemic," Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey said.
"Our community needs a health-care system that can not only meet the regular and ongoing health needs of families but can also be there should COVID-19 cases begin to appear in Flin Flon."
The NRHA would not say Monday if the suspension of operating room services is temporary.
"We believe that the opportunities for Flin Flon are significant and we know that the mix of services and programs has not yet been finalized," the NRHA said. "Much of that work, and the subsequent decisions, are depending on the provincial plan as well as how that provincial plan is unfolded within the Northern Health Region."
A spokesperson for Shared Health said input from communities will continue to be considered as the province’s plan is implemented in Flin Flon.
"We will continue to work with the region to seek long-term solutions that will ensure access to reliable, consistent and high-quality health services closer to home for residents of Flin Flon and other northern communities," the spokesperson said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.