Health care, public safety improvement top concerns for Manitoba municipalities

As municipal officials gathered this week to discuss the concerns and priorities in Manitoba’s municipalities, the head of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) says there were two topics that kept coming up over and over again when he spoke to leaders from rural communities.

“Health care and public safety are the two issues that we continue to hear time and time again,” AMM president Kam Blight said as AMM’s Fall Convention, which brought municipal politicians and officials from across Manitoba together for three days of meetings, wrapped up in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Blight said several rural Manitoba mayors and councillors made it clear at this week’s meetings that residents in many rural communities are often on edge, because they don’t feel they have adequate health-care services, and often wonder what would happen in an emergency situation.

“There is a lack of access to paramedics, there is a lack of access to ERs and hospitals, there are staff shortages all over the place, so basically a lot of the services that residents rely on are being taken away, and that access to health care is being shut off in the small communities.”

Blight said he has heard concerns specifically about how long some patients might have to travel to get medical treatment in an emergency.

“It is very concerning for everyone when what was once a five or 10 minute drive is now a two or two-and-a-half hour drive because a facility is closed or is short staff so it can’t even open, and especially with an emergency where every minute and second is so crucial,” he said.

And according to Blight, he has been told this week that in many cases senior citizens are being forced to leave rural communities for larger centres like Winnipeg, because they do not have access to the basic health care to meet their needs anywhere close to home, and some are being forced to leave after living their whole lives in the same community.

“No residents no matter their age should ever be forced to leave their home because they can’t access care,” Blight said.

“Everyone, no matter where they live, should have access to quality and timely health care.”

But while Blight has heard that rural citizens are on edge because of health care services, they are also on edge in rural communities because of crime, and fears for their own safety, and the safety of their families.

“Property crime is on the rise in rural Manitoba, and it has become noticeable recently in the small communities,” he said.

“We are seeing more incidents of theft and incidents that can lead to violent crime, and it’s becoming a massive concern.”

Blight said he and others want to see the province work to get more police officers patrolling in rural communities, and to see police spending less time working on duties that take them off the streets.

“What I am hearing is people asking for more boots on the ground,” he said. “And one of the ways we do that is to have police spending less time on mental health transfers and on paperwork and administrative tasks.

“We need the police on the ground and in the community, and we need them doing what we know police do best.”

According to Blight, he and other municipal officials now plan to push the provincial government for the types of changes that could improve health care and decrease crime in rural communities in Manitoba.

“We will keep pushing the province because we want to ensure that the types of changes we are asking for come to fruition,” he said.

— 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