Original Published on Jul 04, 2022 at 18:33

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, after residents in southwestern Manitoba were hit with the news last week that several emergency departments are planning to either reduce hours or temporarily shut their doors this summer, because of staff shortages.

Health officials with the Prairie Mountain Health Region (PMH) have announced that residents from the southwestern Manitoba town of Melita and from the RM of Two Borders are invited to a public meeting on Tuesday, where Prairie Mountain Health CEO Brian Schoonbaert and a representative for Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk will be in attendance.

The meeting, which will take place in Melita, a town of about 1,042 residents that sits 320 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, will allow residents to ask questions and voice concerns, after PMH announced late last week that because of staffing shortages there will be reduced hours or temporary closures at several emergency departments in southwestern Manitoba throughout the summer.

In a release, PMH said those changes will be happening this summer because of staffing shortages “resulting from a combination of vacancies, staff leaves, and vacations.”

In their announcement, PMH said emergency departments and hospital admissions in Melita and in Treherne have been temporarily suspended, while there will also be reduced hours at emergency departments in Grandview and Souris.

The health authority did not give a date for when regular operating hours could return at those four facilities.

Anyone in those areas dealing with an emergency may also have to travel farther than usual to get help, as the health authority is also asking anyone seeking emergency department services in the region to call their local health centre first to determine the “nearest open emergency department.”

PMH is also urging residents not to go to emergency rooms, unless what they are dealing with is an actual emergency.

“Please help by using the emergency department during the designated hours for the purpose it was designed for – to manage serious health care needs,” PMH said in their release.

“All less serious health care needs should be addressed through your primary care (doctor or nurse practitioner’s) clinic.”

And as closures and staff shortages leave health care services reduced in southwestern Manitoba, PMH says they are planning to work to bring more health care workers into the region, and to convince more health care workers in Manitoba to consider working in southwestern Manitoba communities.

“PMH continues to work on the recruitment of physicians, and other professional and skilled health-care staff,” PMH said.

“We will continue to work with communities to discuss how we can best work together to encourage people to live and work in our health region. We are also working closely with other health service delivery organizations on provincial recruitment, retention and training efforts.”

According to PMH, laboratory and diagnostic services will remain unchanged at sites in Melita, Treherne, Grandview and Souris throughout the summer.

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the province for comment on the closures and reduced hours, and in an email a provincial spokesperson called staffing issues in rural areas of Manitoba something that has been “longstanding” and “ongoing.”

“Rural regional health authorities continue to take many measures to recruit and retain health care staff to rural regions,” the spokesperson said.

“Longstanding staffing challenges and physician availability in less populated areas of the province have been an ongoing challenge for decades. These challenges often result in reduced hours of operation, shared on-call service, or long-term service suspensions for EDs in some communities.

“Our government continues to invest in health care staffing across the province, including a plan to add close to 400 new Nursing Education Seats, and the addition of 35 paramedics.

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba