August 24, 2016 6:18 pm
Updated: August 24, 2016 7:38 pm

Where can you get ER access 24/7 in rural Manitoba?

Thousands of rural Manitobans can't get emergency care at their own hospital, as the province continues to struggle with a shortage of rural doctors.

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WINNIPEG — Rural Manitobans often have to travel greater distances than city folks to access emergency medical attention, a Global News study finds.

A look into the state of rural health access in Manitoba began with a simple question: where can a patient get emergency medical attention, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year?

The results show a number of towns in southern and central Manitoba must travel over an hour to reach their closest 24/7 emergency room (ER) centre.

In one case, patients from Duck Bay, Man., must travel 106 km (the equivalent of one hour and 27 minutes in driving time) to reach the ER room in Swan River, Man.

RELATED: Hundreds plan to protest doctor shortage in Eriskdale, Man.

Data also shows that while there are no shortage of medical facilities across southern Manitoba, staffing and resource constraints keep a majority of smaller facilities from being able to keep emergency staff on-location or on-call at all times.

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For instance, the town of Roblin, Man., with a population of around 1,700, does have an ER doctor available – but only on Fridays through Sundays. The rest of the week, physicians and nurses are able to attend to patients only during working hours.

In an emergency, a patient from Roblin would have to travel 35 minutes away to Grandview District Health Centre. And this example is not the only instance of gaps in emergency coverage.

The study looks at three major regional health authorities: Prairie Mountain Health, Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority and Southern Health. Between the three regions, 25 hospitals and clinics have 24/7/365 access to an ER doctor.

Hospitals in larger cities such as Winnipeg, Brandon, Selkirk and Dauphin act as “feeder” hospitals for surrounding communities, where patients can readily access emergency care.

Longest travel times to emergency rooms

  1. 106 km/1 hour 27 minute drive: Duck Bay to Swan Valley Health Centre
  2. 99.3 km / 1 hr 7 minute: Whitemouth to Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg
  3.  55 km / 38 minute drive: Vita to Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach

Several health centres and clinics, including in Altona and Virden, Man., do offer 24/7/365 care. Eighteen of the 25 medical facilities offering around-the-clock medical care looked at in this study are classified as hospitals. The others are health centres and clinics.

Struggle to find doctors

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said ER access in rural parts of the province has been a long-standing issue. He called travel times of 90 minutes or more “is not something we consider optimal, ideal or acceptable.”

Goertzen believes one of the main reason for the problem is a struggle to find doctors who want to practice in smaller communities.

READ MORE: Fewer doctors working in Manitoba, report says

The province has incentive programs to draw in more physicians, along with physicians on locum to fill in the gaps. But Goertzen said a long-term solution is finding and investing in doctors from rural communities.

“We know ultimately, the greatest chance of a doctor deciding to practice in a rural setting is if they come from a rural setting,”  he said.

“That’s something we need to continue to focus on.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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