EMS changes in southwestern Manitoba ‘frustrating,’ says Wawanesa councillor

The leader of a rural Manitoba community is starting off the New Year concerned for the safety of his residents, now that the community’s only emergency medical services (EMS) station has been shut down.

“This is really going to hurt people around here,” Oakland-Wawanesa head of council Dave Kreklewich said.

In 2017, the Manitoba government announced plans for a major transformation of the province's emergency services system, which would include closing several rural Manitoba EMS stations, including the one in Wawanesa, a community southeast of the city of Brandon.

Under the plan “low-volume” stations would be closed, while five new stations staffed with full-time paramedics would be built in the communities of Miniota, Eriksdale, Cowan, Alonsa and Manigotogan.

Plans to shutter the EMS station in Wawanesa have now come to fruition, as the facility was shut down on Jan. 1.

Kreklewich said there are now fears the lack of a local ambulance station in the immediate area could increase response times for those who live in and around Wawanesa.

“We have an ageing population, people are going to have emergencies, they are going to have heart attacks, they are going to have strokes and they will need immediate attention, and they might not get it because of this situation that the province has created.”

He said he has been raising concerns about the plan since it was first announced in 2017, but has not felt his concerns were ever taken seriously by the province or by Shared Health.

“We are certainly concerned, and I am frustrated because we want what is best for our citizens and we didn’t want this to happen,” he said.

“It was beyond our control, and we never felt we were invited to the table to give our ideas and input.”

Kreklewich added he personally questions the reasons the changes are being made to the EMS system in rural Manitoba.

“They said the restructuring was to make things better, but what this is, in my mind, is the systematic elimination of health care, and trying to make ambulances into hospitals, and that’s not working because you are losing more than you are ever going to gain.”

In an email sent to the Winnipeg Sun, a Shared Health spokesperson defended the decision to shut down the EMS station in Wawanesa, and said they do not anticipate its closure affecting wait times and emergency services in the area the station previously served.

“For the past two years, the Wawanesa EMS station operated on a limited basis, with casual staff providing on-call coverage from home during the overnight hours only,” the spokesperson said.

“Wawanesa was one the few remaining stations operating under this outdated staffing model. The limited availability of the station, combined with Manitoba’s predictive deployment of EMS resources means we don’t anticipate a significant impact on emergency medical services for Wawanesa and the surrounding communities.”

The spokesperson added the system used to place EMS resources in the province is “strategic” and can adapt to different situations in “real time.”

“Manitoba, as a reminder, relies on computer modelling and predictive deployment to shift EMS resources as needed throughout a region. This means ambulances do not always remain positioned at any one location. Rather, the model provides zones, repositioning ambulances strategically in real time if needed to address gaps and maintain timely response across the province.

“As has always been the case, Manitobans who require medical assistance will be sent to the closest available ambulance which may come from a variety of proximal stations depending on availability, call location, and other relevant factors.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun