The Leaf Rapids Health centre is set to reopen Jan, 24, the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) said Friday, ending a four-week temporary closure.
Services will resume at 4 p.m. Monday. The health centre has been closed since the last week of December as a result of staffing shortages. It was originally supposed to reopen on Jan. 10 but the NRHA announced a couple of days prior that the closure would continue indefinitely.
The announcement that the facility would reopen Jan. 24 noted that the staffing situation is still fragile and sick calls or workers failing to pass COVID-19 screening protocols could result in another closure.
It came a day after Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew and his party’s three northern MLAs held a virtual press conference highlighting the desperate situation in the northern town of less than 600 residents, about 75 per cent of whom are First Nations, according to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).
“What had been a longstanding source of frustration, during the last few weeks and months has become an absolute crisis,” said Kinew, who said the closure, like that of Gillam Hospital for a few days after Christmas, was due to health care cutbacks by the Progressive Conservative government. “It’s the result of decisions that the PC government has made.’
Even before the omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the number of people infected or required to self-isolate skyrocket, Leaf Rapids was operating with less staff than needed.
On Nov. 1, only one of three registered nurse positions in Leaf Rapids was filled, a freedom of information request made by the NDP showed. In Lynn Lake, one of the communities, along with Thompson, that Leaf Rapids residents were advised to travel to to seek emergency medical care during the health centre closure, thee of four licensed practical nurse positions and four of five RN positions were vacant at the beginning of November.
“It’s just pure luck that somebody hasn’t got seriously hurt so far,” said Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey, whose riding includes Leaf Rapids.
Lindsey said the province needs to figure out why the NRHA has trouble filling jobs and keeping them filled.
“It’s like they’re actively being discouraged,” he said of health care workers, speculating that the government would like to consolidate more northern health services in larger centres, rather than having them available in outlying communities.
The Pas-Kameesak MLA Amanda Lathlin said nursing shortages in The Pas are resulting in women who would otherwise having given birth there being forced to deliver their babies elsewhere.
“This government is not investing in nurses in Northern Manitoba to ensure that we have safe birthing facilities,” she said.
Ian Bushie, who represents the Keewatinook electoral district, says the province seems to be closing facilities that do exist and ignoring the needs of residents in other areas where they don’t, like the Island Lake region, which has close to 15,000 residents and no hospital.
Cuts to health care are increasing burnout and stress for the workers who remain, said Kinew, which leads to them leaving the field.
“The province is making a lot of excuses to try to cover up for the longstanding impacts of cuts they’ve made to the health care system,” Kinew said.
Earlier on Friday, prior to the reopening of the Leaf Rapids Health centre being announced, the NDP said they supported MKO’s call for Leaf Rapids, which doesn’t have a mayor and council but is governed by an administrator appointed by the province, to declare a state fo emergency.