‘HUGE FAILURE’: Leaf Rapids hospital closed ‘until further notice’

·4 min read

A health centre in a remote northern Manitoba community that was supposed to open on Monday remains closed because of staff shortages and one northern resident says he is now concerned because residents who live near the health centre will be deprived of basic and possibly lifesaving health care.

“Basic medical care is a basic human right and governments have duties to ensure these rights are ensured,” 59-year-old Leaf Rapids resident Dennis Anderson said. “And even during a national emergency like the pandemic basic medical care is a human right and they have deprived us of that.”

On Dec. 28, the Northern Health region announced that the Leaf Rapids Health Centre would be temporarily closed because of persistent staffing shortages and at the time it was announced that the centre would reopen on Jan. 10.

On Monday, the Northern Health region issued a statement saying the health centre will remain closed “until further notice.”

[caption id="attachment_667518" align="alignnone" width="950"] Leaf Rapids resident Dennis Anderson said he is very concerned now that the Northern Health region has announced that the Leaf Rapids Health Centre will remain closed because of staffing shortages and can’t say when the centre will reopen. Dennis Anderson photo[/caption]

Anderson, who lives in Leaf Rapids, a community of about 580 residents that sits 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg, said he is worried that the ongoing closure could lead to residents in the area not getting medical attention when they need it and said he believes it is becoming “a matter of life and death.”

“The irony is that the clinic is closed and everything that could possibly be needed to save a life is beyond those doors, but the doors are locked and unmanned,” Anderson said.

“So it’s a very real chance that someone goes to that health centre not knowing it’s closed and rings that doorbell and no one will answer. Someone could die on those hospital steps and just inches away there is equipment that could save their life.

“We are sitting here with a medical centre that can provide all those services and yet we are provided with nothing.”

Frontline health-care worker shortages have been an ongoing issue across Manitoba recently because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, as many workers in recent days and weeks have either contracted COVID-19 or been forced to isolate because of COVID symptoms.

“It’s just not acceptable, it is just a huge failure and as of now it does not seem like there are any solutions,” Anderson said. “It’s not the fault of the nurses or the doctors, this is failure of government and even before COVID these had been long-standing issues for a very long time.”

In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Tuesday, a Northern Health region spokesperson said that recent staffing shortages and health centre closures in the province and in the north have been due to COVID-19 cases and symptoms among health-care workers in the area and that they cannot yet say when the Leaf Rapids Health Centre might reopen.

“Firstly, let’s start with saying that no one likes to close a health centre, even temporarily,” the spokesperson said.

“We have been forced to take this decision as a result of staff falling ill, staff being excluded due to COVID-19 screening and our usual replacements not being available.

“To keep the health centre open, we do not have the necessary complement of staff to maintain safe operation at this time. Our goal remains to open as soon as we can safely do so. As for the date of reopening, that is not known at this time.”

The spokesperson also said that health-care staffing has been an ongoing challenge in northern Manitoba and has now been compounded due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“The NHR continues to work tirelessly to ensure all our facilities and sites are adequately staffed,” the spokesperson said. “However, staff sick calls, staff exclusions and the inability to rely on agency staff make staffing a challenge.”

The Northern Health Region said that while the Leaf Rapids Health centre is closed there will be no services provided and all clinical care or support will be provided in Lynn Lake, which is an approximately two-and-a-half-hour drive from Leaf Rapids, or Thompson, which is an approximately four-hour drive from the community.

— 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

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