Exporting failure

While Seven Oaks’ Wellness Centre — still the only one of its kind in Manitoba — has received high praise and even served as a model for a similar facility at the Rizhao Hospital in China, Seven Oaks’ overall operations are far less praiseworthy. The average wait time for a CT or CAT scan at Seven Oaks is four weeks; the wait for a stress test, twelve weeks; for an ultrasound, fourteen weeks. Since 2009, the average wait time at Seven Oaks’ ER has nearly doubled to just over four hours.

No doubt, hospital administrators would point to provincial and even national averages and argue their institution’s performance is comparable. Except all they do is remind us of how utterly dire the quality of care has become right across the country. Healthcare in Canada is teetering at the edge of disaster — and governments at all levels seem unwilling or incapable of pulling the system back from the precipice.

Manitoba’s Winnipeg Regional Health Authority — an organization that struggles even with basic spelling — is doing its level best to maintain the sorry status quo. Wait-times for hip- and knee-replacements are some of the longest in the country. The same can be said for cataract surgeries, and for prostrate and breast cancer treatment. In 2013, the WRHA set targets for reduced emergency room wait times: a year later, the WRHA had made zero progress. Indeed, Manitoba has the longest ER wait-times in Canada.

“The numbers are what I call flat,” then WRHA President and CEO Arlene Wilgosh told the Winnipeg Free Press. She then went on to make a joke about losing her job over the health authority’s abysmal performance. Nobody is laughing.

These words, this continued unwillingness to take responsibility for the unfolding disaster is cold comfort to the families of Brian Sinclair, Heather Brennan or David Silver. Sinclair, of course, spent the final twenty-seven hours of his life in the ER waiting room of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre; his lifeless body slumped in his wheelchair for another seven hours before anyone even noticed he was dead. Silver and Brennan were both discharged from hospital (Silver from the Grace, Brennan from Seven Oaks) into taxicabs and both died shortly after returning home. Heather Brennan was taken off her blood-thinner medication before she was discharged; an autopsy later revealed she died from blood clots in her legs. David Silver collapsed in his front yard wearing nothing more than a nightgown; the ambient temperature that night reached a historic -37C. How did then Health Minister Erin Selby respond to that particular tragedy? She blamed the cab driver.

Sharon Blady, Manitoba’s current Minister of Health, was no less evasive when responding to the Auditor General’s troubling review of the province’s home-care program. Because Manitoba’s program fares better relative to other provinces, her focus will be strengthening the program. Not fixing, because that implies something is broken. No, Blady is going to strengthen home care. Just like the WRHA was going to improve wait times.

Responses from Minister Blady (and from Selby before her), from representatives of the WRHA and even from Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, when faced with serious criticisms of the operations of institutions, agencies and programs under their purview, have a common theme: little urgency and even less personal accountability.

There is likely not a Manitoban alive who does not have a horror story about our healthcare system. Perhaps it was a loved one, or they themselves who had to endure an agonizing night in the ER, the indignity of laying barely clothed in a grubby hospital hallway, the anxiety and pain that comes from waiting months for tests or treatment, being forcibly discharged in the middle of the night with little heart or help.

It does not have to be this way.

One can only hope for the sake of the patients of China’s Rizhou Hospital that their Wellness Centre, patterned on the one at Seven Oaks, will not also include the institutionalized racism, dismal wait times for critical surgeries and tests and inexcusable lack of accountability that is endemic here in Manitoba. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment — except us, apparently.

***

Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

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