Poor turnout at public meeting but views can still be submitted

Emergency room waiting times may not be an issue at the front of mind for Thompsonites, if you judge by the attendance at a public consultation by the wait times reduction task force at the Vale Regional Community Centre April 7, which about 10 people attended.

On the other hand, it could be because it was poorly advertised and on a Friday afternoon, with at least one would-be participant arriving just as the session was wrapping up at 4:30 p.m., having heard somewhere that that was the start time.

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Whatever the reason, the people in attendance, who included health care workers and First Nations members from Thompson and beyond, had plenty of concerns and suggestions on how the health care system could be improved in Northern Manitoba.

Dr. John Ross, an emergency room doctor at the Halifax Infirmary and a professor of emergency medicine at Dalhousie University, one of the co-chairs of the emergency department wait times task force, was in Thompson for the consultation, though co-chair Dr. Alecs Chochinov was busy in Winnipeg and could not be in attendance.

Ross says he was approached by the Manitoba government to help lead this task force, in part, because of work he has done in the past with provincial health authorities regarding emergency care issues, which has shown his willingness to disrupt the system.

Much of what consultation attendees had to say about the health care system in Northern Manitoba concerned the fly-in, fly-out nature of the system, both in terms of bringing in doctors and sending out patients. This not only disrupts continuity of care for patients, but spends money that could otherwise go to actual medical care on transportation and accommodations, while disrupting the personal lives of medical professionals and patients alike.

Ross and the Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living staff who helped him facilitate the consultation heard that nursing was one of the Thompson General Hospital’s strengths, something that attendees felt was a function of there being nursing training available in the north, which made it more likely that people from the region could be trained in the region and remain in the region. There was also some criticism of the leadership within the Northern Regional Health Authority, with many positions having been eliminated since it was created by merging the Burntwood and NOR-MAN regional health authorities in 2012 during a restructuring of the regional health authority system province-wide.

Ross says some of his successful ideas in the past included changing how paramedics were utilized, making it possible for those with additional training to perform procedures such as emergency room triage, giving stitches and setting broken bones, which freed up nurses and doctors to take care of other matters. He also said that he believes that he is working for the people of Manitoba, rather than the government, and that he won’t be afraid to tell the government exactly what he thinks the system needs to improve.

The Progressive Conservative government showed April 7 that it isn’t afraid of making bold – and unpopular – moves when it announced that it would be closing some emergency rooms in Winnipeg. But for Ross and his task force co-chair to give the province suggestions that will reduce the amount of time people spend waiting in hospitals for emergency care, he needs a broad base of knowledge to work from.

You may have missed your chance to tell the task force directly what you think is working and what needs to change, but you can still do so online by filling out a survey before May 5. To find the survey for the public or the ones for health care providers, go to https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/wtrtf.html. You can also request a paper copy of the survey by sending an email to WTRTF@gov.mb.ca.

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