November 30, 2023

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Manitoba community’s brush with ER closures highlights extent of health care concerns – Winnipeg

After an emergency room in a Manitoba community closed down this month, residents were left wondering how they could get the healthcare they needed.

The health centre in Carberry, Man., shut off its emergency services at the start of September. It had, for a time, been the go-to ER department for community residents as well those from the municipality of Glenboro.

With nowhere to go to receive emergency care, some residents are forced to go to other major urban centres. It’s an issue made worse by the fact that Carberry doesn’t have a dedicated doctor. The community is left to rely on nurse practitioners for all its needs.

Former mayor Stuart Olmstead said he’s had to drive down to Winnipeg to see his doctor, about a two-hour drive one way.

“Carberry does not have doctors on staff at the present, (and) our emergency department is closed,” said Olmstead. “Those that have immediate or long-term medical issues, or just need checkups like myself, may have to go out of the area to receive (care).”

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While the drive down to the city is not one that bothers him, Olmstead said he acknowledged the concerns that others brought to him in his time in office.

“Any small town that doesn’t have healthcare available on an emergency basis, or just a regular basis, puts a large crimp in its economic reach,” said Olmstead.

Carberry’s hospital was built back in 1999. According to the former mayor, 10 per cent of the building’s cost had to be fronted by the town. Without a doctor, Olmstead said it’s created a situation that’s pitting municipalities against each other to attract the staff needed to fill in gaps in the healthcare system.

It’s an issue that current mayor Ray Muirhead said is top of mind, as the town actively works to recruit and retain more staff.

“It has a major impact on our community… we have an aging population in Carberry which requires people to see a doctor,” said Muirhead. “And we are without a doctor right now.”

Health care in Carberry and neighbouring communities falls under the jurisdiction of Prairie Mountain Health. According to them, a recruitment process is currently underway to fill in physician vacancies in the town.

In a statement to Global News on Sept. 26, the agency said that “once we have physician resources in place in Carberry, the emergency department will reopen.”

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“A number of communities in Prairie Mountain Health experience temporary suspensions of emergency department services on an ongoing basis, due to staffing shortages,” reads part of the statement.

“This suspension of services may last one or two days or extend for longer periods (as is the case in Carberry) until the staffing situation stabilizes.”

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Provincial parties on health care

The need for a long-term solution

According to life-long Carberry resident Brian Ramsey, health care across the community has been on a steady decline. Having worked as a paramedic for 30 years, he saw the issue as being one that requires a long-term solution.

He further added that the impact of the emergency rooms closing would be felt across the region, even outside of his own town. With highways just by the town, and Carberry situated near industrial areas, Ramsey said it’s troublesome not to have an ER to go to when it comes to responding to an emergency.

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“When the hospital first opened, they actually delivered babies here,” said Ramsey. “We had an ER department that was open seven days a week. Slowly over the decades, we’ve seen those services pulled away, to the point now our ER is closed indefinitely because of a lack of doctors.”

Ramsey retired in 2019. Before that, he said his responsibilities included calling ahead to see which emergency rooms were open and where. From his own experience, he noted that it would make a lot of difference to a patient’s health if they received care faster, instead of travelling to another community to use their ER department.

With the provincial election fast approaching, Ramsey said there needs to be a long-term solution rather than just a band-aid put over the ongoing problem.

“This has been going on for decades, this slow decline,” said Ramsey. “This (did) not happen overnight and it’s not going to be fixed overnight. Whoever’s in power, we want to see them work together with the Opposition and have a long-term health plan that’s going to restore our services and our community.”

— with files from Global’s Marney Blunt

Click to play video: 'Rural Manitoba municipalities grapple with provincial health care responsibilities'

Rural Manitoba municipalities grapple with provincial health care responsibilities

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