Lynn Lake, Man., residents frustrated patients being transferred to hospital an 8-hour drive away

Residents from Lynn Lake, Man., say they’re fed up with hospital service disruptions and cutbacks due to staffing shortages. 

Two weeks ago, the Northern Regional Health Authority said it’s transferring patients in Lynn Lake Hospital to Flin Flon because of staffing issues.

With multiple northern communities — Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake and Snow Lake — facing service cutbacks in recent weeks, residents worry they’ll lose their local hospital services for good. Local politicians say they’ve been given little to no notice for the changes taking place and they’re calling on the Northern Regional Health Authority to provide more transparency for their communities. 

Fred Salter, 82, says his wife was transferred from Lynn Lake Hospital to Flin Flon last week with little notice. He was on a trip in Thompson when he found out, he said. 

“I tried to get a hold of the hospital in Lynn Lake and there was no answer. I tried to get a hold of Flin Flon [General Hospital] and nobody seemed to know anything, so I drove straight home,” Salter said. 

Salter says his wife has Alzheimer’s and her transfer has been difficult for family members. (Submitted by Belynda Salter-Oliver)

By the time he got back to Lynn Lake, his wife was already being transferred out and she’s 82 and has Alzheimer’s, Salter said. 

Flin Flon is 234 km south of Lynn Lake, but with no direct highway route, it’s about eight hours away by car. Salter says he used to visit his wife every day, but now with this transfer, he can only visit her twice a month because of the time it takes to drive there and the cost of accommodation to stay overnight. 

“Certainly air travel is not affordable, so it’s very difficult. They didn’t think about that when they made this decision, how they were going to affect the lives of other people,” he said. 

Health authority cites safety as reason 

In a statement to CBC news, NRHA says there are fewer than 10 patients transferred to Flin Flon and all were long-term-care patients awaiting placements in personal care homes.

It says staffing issues resulted in an inability to maintain patient safety care and it can’t continue on a path that would jeopardize patient safety or lead to an emergency evacuation of in-patients.

“Patient safety was paramount in making the decision to transfer the in-patients from Lynn Lake Hospital to Flin Flon General Hospital which impacted our ability to enter into substantive consultation with the patients’ families (which we would have preferred),” the health authority said. 

“The moves were done in a phased manner over the last week of July to again ensure patient safety and adequate resources were available to meet these patients’ needs,” the statement reads.

NRHA says the temporary closure will be in place for an “indeterminate amount of time” and stresses that the emergency department remains open 24-7.

‘Disheartening’: mayor 

Jim Shortt, the mayor of Lynn Lake, says other than an initial call from NRHA during the last week of July, he hasn’t heard from the health authority since. 

“We’re not sure of what happened or how temporary this might be, but we’re not getting any communication whatsoever from regional health,” Shortt said. 

“It’s disheartening to our community … a quick decision being made tearing people out of the community,” said Shortt.

In mid-July, the NRHA shut down the Leaf Rapids emergency department for the second time this year, citing “ongoing, persistent staffing issues.” Emergency patients are being redirected to Lynn Lake, which is 100 km away from the community.

Hospitals in the northern communities of Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake and Snow Lake have cut back service this summer due to staffing issues. The NRHA says it’s tirelessly recruiting nurses. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Now patients admitted to hospital from Lynn Lake are being transferred to Flin Flon. 

On Thursday night, the health authority also announced it is temporarily closing in-patient beds at the Snow Lake Health Centre. It cites staffing issues as the reason and says there have been no patient admissions to the centre in the past six weeks. 

“The low utilization of the in-patient beds at the health centre translates to this temporary measure having the least impact in order to maintain core services,” NRHA said.

‘It’s a disaster’: MLA 

“To put it mildly, it’s a disaster throughout the region,” said Tom Lindsey, the NDP MLA for Flin Flon. 

He says typically, people from Leaf Rapids have to drive to Lynn Lake because it’s a four-hour wait to get a medevac flight. 

“It’s potentially life-threatening,” said Lindsey. “Somebody is going to die … that’s the biggest concern without adequate health care, without adequate services being available. Somebody is going to die from that.”

Tom Lindsey says the Northern Regional Health Authority needs to come up with a better plan for the region. (Facebook)

Lindsey says he had a meeting with NRHA on Friday and there’s a lack of clarity on what the plan is for the region. 

“Clearly, there needs to be better communication with the people that are being affected in the short term so that they know what’s happening with their loved ones. There needs to be a better plan that’s communicated to people,” Lindsey said. 

The health authority says it continues to work tirelessly to recruit and retain nursing staff for all northern communities and with a national nursing shortage, recruiting remains a challenge.