Rural ER long weekend closures spark extra concern: doctor
Closures of three rural emergency rooms in western Manitoba have physicians bracing for longer patient waits and heavy workloads through the Labour Day long weekend.
“We definitely are going to feel this in Neepawa,” said Dr. Nichelle Desilets, who works at the Neepawa Health Centre, about 190 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
Between Friday and Monday, rural ERs in the communities of Carberry, Minnedosa and Glenboro are scheduled to be closed or operating at reduced hours owing to staffing challenges.
Neepawa Health Centre will be the safety net for any patients in those communities in need of emergency care, which is a drastic increase, Desilets said Friday.
“What we can anticipate is increased volumes of patients coming to our emergency room and, while we are glad to be open here and of service, we will not have the luxury of being able to see people in a really quick manner.”
While Desilets said closures at Neepawa are not anticipated, the hospital is already working short-handed and will have to limit services, including maternity, obstetrics and surgical care.
An increased work load is expected to weigh heavily on an already lean staff, Desilets said. Harvest season is underway and there is the potential for significant injuries from farming equipment, in addition to car crashes and injuries from recreational activities over the weekend, she said.
“It has the potential to really increase wait times and that has us concerned because it’s very frustrating for front-line health-care workers to provide a high standard of care when there’s not enough bodies and resources to do it.”
Physicians are also becoming concerned the closures of rural emergency departments — meant to be a temporary measure to allow staff to take holiday through the summer — are turning into permanent reductions in service, Desilets said.
About 200 km southwest of Neepawa, the ER in the town of Melita has been closed since July, and is scheduled to say shuttered until at least Oct. 2.
“It doesn’t look like these problems are going away, and instead of assuming that this is a short-term problem, we need to accept the proof that we have experienced that this is a long-term challenge,” said Desilets, who is also a board member for advocacy organization Doctors Manitoba.
Prairie Mountain, the regional health authority, did not make anyone available for an interview Friday.
In a statement, chief executive officer Brian Schoonbaert said the focus for the long weekend is to ensure larger, centrally located emergency departments, including those with lab and diagnostic imaging services, are able to handle an anticipated increase in patient numbers.
“At several smaller sites, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend emergency department hours to ensure that patients and communities have certainty over where to go if they require care,” Schoonbaert said.
“We are sincerely grateful to all of our staff for their ongoing commitment to patient care.”