Manitoba NDP promise rural doc recruitment fund, incentives for other staff to work rurally

A Manitoba NDP government would “fix rural health care” by reinstating a grant program to bring in more rural physicians and offering incentives to medical staff who work in rural communities, NDP Leader Wab Kinew promised on Monday.

The party unveiled its five-point plan to improve rural health care with an election campaign-style stop in Virden, Man., part of the Riding Mountain constituency, which has convincingly elected Progressive Conservative MLAs since its formation in 2008. A Manitoba election is scheduled for Oct. 3.

“We came here very conscientiously to send a message that our team is running to lead this province. All of this province,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew told a crowd of 70 people at Tundra Oil and Gas Place, including municipal officials from the area, NDP and PC supporters.

Kinew accused the Progressive Conservative government of eroding health care during its seven years in power.

Several western and Interlake Manitoba health facilities have experienced intermittent closures to their emergency departments in recent years. 

“They’ve heard that there may be closures in the near future,” Kinew said. “They’ve asked for reassurances, but the answers have been noncommittal.

Kinew promised to restore a previous NDP program, established in 2001 and revamped in 2010, that gave medical students grants of $12,000 in each of their four years of medical school. It also offered grants to physicians establishing a practice in Manitoba upon graduation.

In return, for each year they received the grant, students would complete six months of service in an under-serviced part of the province upon graduation. 

The PC government cut the program in 2017, saving roughly $4.2 million a year. The government said at the time it would come up with a better retention strategy. 

Kinew said an NDP government would reinstate the fund and double its annual funding.

Leadership needs shake-up: NDP

He’s also encouraging a reconfiguration of health-care leadership. Kinew has talked about cutting bureaucracy at Shared Health, the provincial health-care organization created by the PCs. 

“For too many of the past number of years we’ve had health-care senior leaders who hand down marching orders from on high and ignore the pleas for help, concerns, solutions for improvement that are coming from the front lines,” Kinew said.

Manitoba will need to be more competitive financially, he said, and “right now, no health jurisdiction is doing the new vision piece that I’m talking about, the decentralization, the reinvestment in the front-line piece that I’m talking about that could be Manitoba’s competitive advantage in terms of recruiting the doctors and the nurses and the health-care professionals.”

Other pledges from the NDP include developing incentives for nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals who work in rural communities, as well as building more personal care home beds.

New Democrats are also vowing to create advanced care paramedic positions in rural Manitoba and pay rural paramedics the same wages as in Winnipeg. Rural paramedics have a starting hourly wage $1 lower than their colleagues in Winnipeg, while the top of their pay scale is $32.95/hour, in comparison to $41.62/hour in Winnipeg, the union said.

Meanwhile, the government said it is already working on measures to address recruitment and retention through its announcement, last November, to spend $200 million to add 2,000 health-care workers in the province.

ER issues

Mike Sudak, a town councillor in Carberry, Man., suggested at the Virden announcement that spotty service at the Carberry Health Centre emergency department has been an issue for several years.

He said his wife developed breathing issues one summer night a few years ago and required emergency medical care. Sudak said there were no ambulances available at the Carberry ambulance station and the local hospital emergency department was closed.

He took his wife to the Brandon Regional Health Centre, a 50-kilometre drive from Carberry. 

A man in a black tie, white collared shirt and black jacket speaks with media.
Mike Sudak, a town councillor in Carberry, said people in his community are looking for solutions to the intermittent closures of the local emergency room. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“I shouldn’t have to [question] is my hospital open or not? I shouldn’t have to have my kids or my family in my arms and show up looking for help somewhere. It should just be there, especially when … the building is there,” Sudak said.

“Hopefully with some leadership or answers these problems can get fixed for rural communities.”

NDP supporter Sue Stirling said after the announcement that the party was “prepared to act on what they’re hearing, and they’re prepared to put the money behind what they’re hearing.”

A man in a blue striped collared shirt and dark checkered blazer speaks to media.
Bob Cochrane, a resident of Virden of 40 years, said he didn’t have criticisms of the NDP pitch but wonders how the party intends on funding it if elected. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Longtime Virden resident and retired teacher Bob Cochrane said ambulance wait times are a big concern in the community.

A Tory supporter, Cochrane turned out to hear what the NDP had in mind for remedying rural health-care issues.

“Certainly gave me food for thought,” he said. “I’m not questioning those approaches, it’s that question of funding. Where’s the money going to come from?”

NDP closed rural ERs, say PCs

The Progressive Conservative Party said the NDP failed to fix health care the last time it was in power, and wouldn’t be successful now.

“Without a worldwide pandemic or global nursing shortage, the Selinger-Kinew NDP closed 16 rural ERs and saw Grace Hospital post the worst ER wait times in the entire country,” caucus chair Ron Schuler said in a news release, adding two of the closed emergency departments (in Birtle and Erickson) are in the constituency that hosted Monday’s NDP announcement.

Kinew said an NDP government would do everything in its power to avoid closures.

“I didn’t get involved in politics to close emergency departments or ambulance stations,” Kinew said.

“If I’m elected premier, I’m going to fight like hell to keep your local emergency department and ambulance station open.”

The Manitoba Liberal Party slammed the NDP for recycling the rural physician recruitment fund idea. The party cited a past media report, which noted the significant time gap between when a student receives a grant and when they’re able to practice, and that the student may decide to practice something else at the end of their training.

“We’re in a crisis when it comes to staffing shortages, and the NDP’s response is to bring back an old program that may not deliver doctors to rural areas for years, if at all,” leader Dougald Lamont said in a news release.

Kinew added the NDP would also bolster staffing by reaching a new deal with the union that represents about 7,000 rural paramedics and emergency dispatchers, respiratory therapists, lab and diagnostic technologists and other allied health professionals in Manitoba.

After five years of wage freezes, members of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate last month.

The union could, theoretically, reach a new contract with its employer before the election.

The NDP is committing as well to increase the mileage rate for home care staff. The Canadian Union of Public Employees reported last year that the mileage rate for home care workers ($0.43 to $0.45) is 36 per cent lower than the Canada Revenue Agency rate ($0.61).

WATCH | NDP promise rural doc recruitment fund, incentives for other staff to work rurally:

Manitoba NDP promise rural doc recruitment fund, incentives for other staff to work rurally

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A Manitoba NDP government would “fix rural health care” by reinstating a grant program to bring in more rural physicians and offering incentives to medical staff who work in rural communities, NDP Leader Wab Kinew promised in Virden, Man.