Manitoba community loses its ER services again amid staffing shortage

An emergency room in Manitoba’s Interlake region is closing once again because no one is available to staff it.

The E.M. Crowe Memorial Hospital in Eriksdale won’t have a doctor available in its emergency department until at least after Dec. 15, a schedule posted on the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority’s website says.

Emergency room services in the community about 130 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg were previously suspended in mid-September, when the health region said although there was a doctor in the region, services couldn’t be delivered without access to diagnostic services.

The closure means people in Eriksdale are once again being directed to Ashern or Arborg — 39 and 62 kilometres away, respectively — for care.

Keith Lundale, who’s part of a health-care advocacy group in the region planning a rally on Dec. 13 to raise awareness about the situation, said Eriksdale lost its lab technologist and two of its four doctors this year.

And while the latest closure is slated to last around three weeks, Lundale said he expects it could go on longer. 

The lack of an emergency department has real effects on people in the community, he said, pointing to anecdotes including a woman diverted three times before she reached a hospital that could treat her and a man who died of a heart attack after having to be driven to another community for help.

A bald man with glasses wears a yellow shirt and a tie and smiles.
Keith Lundale is part of a health-care advocacy group planning a rally in Eriksdale on Dec. 13 to raise awareness about the emergency room situation in the Manitoba community. (Submitted by Keith Lundale)

“Everybody has a right to equal health care. And right now, it’s not equal and it’s not fair,” said Lundale, who’s also president of the Eriksdale Chamber of Commerce and previously served as a councillor for the rural municipality of West Interlake.

Lundale said he wants to see a plan from the government to eliminate the “revolving door” of doctors in rural communities and make sure there are enough staff to keep emergency departments open across the province.

The closure comes as the organization representing doctors in Manitoba called for more to be done to address a projected exodus of physicians amid an already growing shortage in the province.

Manitoba has 217 doctors per 100,000 residents, a report released last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information says. That’s the third-lowest rate in the country, ahead only of Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

Manitoba doctor shortage

The province would need 405 more doctors to reach the Canadian average of 246 per 100,000 residents, Doctors Manitoba said on Thursday, citing the CIHI data.

The provincial government recently held a news conference together with Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Nurses Union to announce a plan to add 2,000 health-care professionals to the public system with $200 million in funding.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the government will continue to listen to people working on the front lines of the health-care system.

Lundale said while he wants to stay optimistic that Manitoba will solve the issues that have led to repeated emergency room closures in communities like Eriksdale, he wonders how long that might take.

“Do we have to wait until people die before we take some action?” he said.

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