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Major changes complete; health care system moves to stabilize: WRHA

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says the health care overhaul is mostly complete, the task is to now stabilize and streamline the service.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says the health care overhaul is mostly complete, the task is to now stabilize and streamline the service. Global News

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says all the major clinical changes to the health care system are essentially finished, and the plan is to now begin stabilizing.

The conversion of Seven Oaks General Hospital’s critical care unit into an urgent care centre in September marked the final change in a contentious health care system overhaul which began in April, 2017.

“These changes have been necessary, but undeniably disruptive,” said Real Cloutier, president and CEO of the WRHA.

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The focus is now on improving wait times by lowering the nursing vacancy rate and improving patient flow, said Cloutier.

Most recent data from the WRHA shows the average wait time was 2.07 hours in September, 2019.

That’s down 13 per cent compared to three years before the consolidation, but is also half an hour longer than it was in September, 2018.

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“With all the changes in staffing that occurred, particularly at Concordia and Seven Oaks, that had an impact.”

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READ MORE: New ‘clinical services plan’ streamlines healthcare, says Manitoba government

The goal is to bring wait times down to the national average of 1.2 hours by April, 2021, said Cloutier.

WRHA Chief Health Operations Officer, Krista Williams, said they’re also cleaning up the hiring process to lower the nurse vacancy rate below 10 per cent.

As of September, it was 16.5 per cent, after climbing to a peak 22.6 per cent in June.

“This has an impact we recognize on nurses,” Williams said.

READ MORE: ‘It scares me’: Former Winnipeg nurse says health care overhaul is hurting patient care

“It impacts overtime, potential mandating, and it also has contributed to us using agency staff.”

She added they’ve already hired more than 200 nurses in the last five months.

Aside from the nursing shortage, Cloutier said the other component to address wait times is what they call access block – how to move patients to the resources they need more quickly to free up stretchers for others.

WRHA to get new staff scheduling system
WRHA to get new staff scheduling system

That could include emergency treatment, consultation with a specialist, medical tests, or inpatient beds.

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For all the work still to be done, Cloutier said they’re seeing some early indications the overhaul is working.

“We’re seeing a reduced number of patients in hospitals waiting placement in a personal care home,” Cloutier said.

READ MORE: Report: Confidence lost in overhaul of Manitoba health-care system

“The number of patients moving home from hospital more quickly, and the length of stay in emergency and inpatient areas has improved.”

The number of days patients are staying in hospital while not requiring acute care is almost half the rate it was just before the changes got started, according to the WRHA.

It says some minor changes are still coming, including the opening of a mental health treatment area in St. Boniface Hospital’s Emergency Department.