Building on shaky foundations

How the state of healthcare prior to COVID-19 could affect response

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

As the provincial government reacts to COVID-19, their responses will be impacted by the state of Manitoba’s healthcare system prior to the virus' arrival in Manitoba and the provincial budget.

According to the Manitoba Health Coalition (MHC), which advocates for the expansion and preservation of quality healthcare in Manitoba, the foundation laid by the Province prior to COVID-19’s arrival is not especially sturdy.

“When we’re talking about COVID-19, it’s really important to highlight that our healthcare system has been underfunded for a duration of time, and the sweeping changes undertaken by this government have consequences when it comes to vacancy rates among our frontline workers in our hospitals,” Brianne Goertzen, director of MHC, says.

Goertzen identifies a chronic lack of funding and a lack of consultation with frontline staff regarding vacancies and equipment needs as key issues that the Conservative government has repeatedly failed to address.

“When we look at the amalgamation of the ERs, we were witnessing a loss of capacity of the system as a whole, and that’s had a cascading effect on the system as a whole,” she says. Goertzen also notes that a “system overhaul took place at the same time that the funding was shrinking,” and to overhaul the system successfully, sweeping changes would have to be accompanied by increased funding.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU), says that “the nurses are going to be exhausted at the end of this pandemic. I think our capacity issues are certainly going to be frontline.

“We know that there are capacity issues, not just with beds, but with staff. We’ve gone from a chronic nursing shortage to an acute nursing shortage, and, at times, a critical nursing shortage.”

Jackson says that during flu season this year, the effects of those shortages became apparent. She says now that schools and daycares are closed, lack of childcare could put additional stress on Manitoba’s nurses.

“As usual, it doesn’t matter what happens. When everyone is running into the battle, nurses are running into it.”

Jackson says any issues between the MNU and the province with regards to vacancies can be addressed after the pandemic is over.

Goertzen says COVID-19 “has core realities that I think no government could really expect in relation to the sheer number of intensive care capacity beds that will be required if this pandemic hits Manitoba at the same rate as other jurisdictions.”

As for the new provincial budget, Goertzen said in an email statement that “This budget is insufficient to handle the current and, most definitely, future healthcare needs of Manitobans. Now more than ever, we need a strong, well-funded, resourced and appropriately staffed healthcare system not just during a crisis, but every day.”

“It is beyond disappointing to see a reduction in core funding for our healthcare system, which includes a cut to the public health department. It is clear our government will continue to nickel and dime healthcare for their own ideological purposes,” the statement concluded.

Published in Volume 74, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 26, 2020)

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