Manitoba’s top doctor Brent Roussin said there are a number of issues that are causing the current health care staffing shortages and facility closures in northern Manitoba. PHOTO BY KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Just one month after the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) put out an “SOS” because of staffing shortages in northern Manitoba, two northern health care facilities have now temporarily closed their doors, because they don’t even have enough staff to remain open.

On Tuesday the Northern Health region announced that the Gillam Hospital would be temporarily closed because of what they say are “ongoing persistent staffing issues.”

The notice says that the hospital in Gillam, a town of approximately 1,200 residents that sits between Thompson and Churchill, would be closed from Dec. 28 until at least Jan. 5.

“No services will be provided at the health centre during this closure other than the Primary Care Clinic,” Northern Health said on Tuesday.

As well it was announced that the Leaf Rapids Health Centre has also been temporarily closed due to staff shortages, and will not open until at least Jan. 10.

Back on Nov. 26 MNU, a union that represents more than 12,000 nurses across the province, warned in a Twitter post about the ongoing health care staff and nursing shortages in northern Manitoba, saying that the situation was becoming increasingly “desperate.”

“We’re desperate for help in Lynn Lake, Gilliam & Snow Lake,” the Tweet read. “Nurses are needed to cover day & night shift needs. People are left in vulnerable situations with NO access to healthcare services if nurses aren’t able to cover these shifts. SOS… We are drowning.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to MNU on Wednesday for comment on the closures, but did not receive a response before Tuesday’s press deadline.

With the news of the closures, one NDP Member of Parliament is now asking that the federal government step in and work with the province to offer assistance in communities where there are health care staff shortages, and where health care facilities are now closing their doors.

On Wednesday Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton sent a letter to Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu asking that the feds now step in.

“I am calling on Indigenous Services Canada to immediately work with the Province of Manitoba and take whatever measures necessary, including engaging the Canadian Armed Forces to provide emergency medical services in Gillam and Leaf Rapids at this time,” Ashton said in the letter.

Ashton called the closures of the facilities “shocking” as COVID-19 cases spike in the province, and because of the amount of people in those communities and in the surrounding areas that rely on those facilities.

“This is a shocking decision on the part of our province given the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Manitoba at this time,” she said. “Gillam and Leaf Rapids provide medical services to people from neighbouring communities, including many First Nations and Métis people. The nearest hospital in Thompson is far away, a drive of over three hours.”

“All options must be considered including bringing in medical personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces. Our region needs help now.”

Doctors Manitoba, a not-for-profit organization that represents thousands of physicians in the province, said on Wednesday that the issues with health care staff shortages have become particularly problematic lately in the province and not just in the north.

“Just today, we have had reports from physicians about critical staffing shortages and service disruption in hospitals throughout rural Manitoba, including in Gillam, Boissevain, Killarney, Deloraine, The Pas, Dauphin, Ste. Rose, Selkirk and hospitals throughout the Interlake region,” Doctors Manitoba communications director Keir Johnson said.

“On one hand we are seeing health-care systems across the country struggling to keep up with Omicron, but what we are seeing in Manitoba is a system that is highly, highly stressed because of the staffing situations in hospitals.”

During a Wednesday press conference, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Brent Roussin was asked about the situation in health care facilities in the north, and why it has become so dire that some facilities are being forced to close.

“We have increasing demands on the health care system for various reasons, but most notably because of Omicron,” Roussin said. “And then what we know is just as we’ve seen an increased number of cases, well part of those increased cases include health care workers and so that puts extra strain on the staffing.

“So that challenge is why we’ve put in more measures and why we’re asking Manitobans to do what they can to reduce their contacts. That’s why we’ve pleaded with Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as they become eligible for another dose.”

When reached by phone for comment an employee at the Gillam Hospital said “we are not authorized to offer any comment,” and said inquiries should be directed to Northern Health.

A Northern Health spokesperson told the Winnipeg Sun in an email sent on Wednesday that “staffing in the Northern region continues to be a challenge, and every effort is being made to ensure that the Gillam Hospital resumes regular operations as soon as possible.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Gillam, Manitoba. See article HERE.

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