If you want to improve health care in Manitoba, focus on lifting Manitobans out of poverty first.
That was one of the messages as about 100 people gathered in central Winnipeg Saturday afternoon to voice their opinions on how recent changes to the health-care system have impacted their lives.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew and local psychiatric nurse Uzoma Asagwara hosted the event, which saw people ask about, and suggest solutions for, everything from prioritizing mental health access to finding fast but affordable ways to get to out-of-the-way health centres with the closure of Misericordia's urgent care clinic.
The event was expected to focus mostly on mental health, said Kinew.
"The big issue that I've been hearing about since the holidays is mental health and addictions," said Kinew. "We have to do better when it comes to helping people with addictions find a path to move forward."
The NDP leader said the Opposition party has done health-care town halls in southwest and northeast Winnipeg, but said central Winnipeg has been affected differently by the provincial government's recent health-care changes.
"One of the things that really stands out about the changes that have been made to health care so far and some of the cuts is a lot of them do impact the inner city, downtown, the West End and some of the areas like Fort Garry around Pembina/Osborne Village, so closer to the core area.
"So we do want to spend some time listening to the people in this area about the services in central Winnipeg that are being affected."
Many at the meeting were from the West Broadway area, and there were cheers when a woman stood up to say she opposed the closure of the urgent care centre at the Misericordia.
Others talked about addressing poverty and affordable living as a way to cut health-care costs, leading to conversation around being unable to afford a taxi ride to the Grace Hospital.
Uzoma spoke of the social determinants of health and how they play a large role in a person's wellness, like income, social environment, existing social stigmas, sexual identity and first languages. They can all be barriers to health access, she said, adding the system needs to look at these things "holistically."
Many in attendance stressed the importance of looking at the system from a preventative, community perspective — which they said would lead to lower costs because people would be healthier in the first place.
The ideas shared at the town hall and other town halls will help form the basis for NDP platform and policy ideas, said Kinew.