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The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION

Piney probes health accord at town hall

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 03/15/2019 8:35 AM

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Curt Peters, acting director of Manitoba Health’s insured benefits branch, presents to a crowd of about 75 local residents at the Piney Community Centre on Monday evening. A second public meeting scheduled for last night in Sprague was cancelled due to road and weather conditions. It has been rescheduled for March 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Sprague Community Hall.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Curt Peters, acting director of Manitoba Health’s insured benefits branch, presents to a crowd of about 75 local residents at the Piney Community Centre on Monday evening. A second public meeting scheduled for last night in Sprague was cancelled due to road and weather conditions. It has been rescheduled for March 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Sprague Community Hall.

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Residents of the Piney area lobbed dozens of detailed questions at a Manitoba Health administrator sent to clarify the unique international accord governing health care delivery in the municipality, and learned how much the province expects to save by scaling back the agreement.

About 75 area residents attended the Piney Community Centre on Monday night for the first of two town hall meetings.

Curt Peters, acting director of Manitoba Health’s insured benefits branch, fielded questions following a presentation on Manitoba’s Health Services Insurance Act, which allows the provincial government to contract third parties to provide health care services. Several senior Southern Health officials were also on hand.

"We’re not here to shoot the messenger," Reeve Wayne Anderson reminded the crowd at the outset of the meeting.

By and large, the evening proceeded smoothly, with Peters responding to a variety of questions left unanswered by a one-page mailbox flyer distributed last summer, when the 20-year-old working agreement between Manitoba Health and Altru Health System, which operates clinics in Warroad and Roseau, Minn., was revised.

Specialist care was excluded as of Aug. 1, but emergency, hospital, and primary care coverage, including inter-facility ambulance transports, continue for those living in the municipality for at least half the year.

For months, Piney council pressed the province to clarify the full implications of the changes, and there were hopes Health Minister Cameron Friesen would attend the town halls, organized in December.

Friesen’s spokesperson said the minister had another engagement to attend Monday evening.

Peters said regional infrastructure changes, strides in medical technology, and service expansions south of the border prompted the province to review the accord.

Diverting specialist care to Manitoba will save the province an anticipated $1 million annually, versus the $4.2 million it spent in the 2016-17 fiscal year to care for about 870 patients.

The Manitoba government continues to pay 85 percent of Altru’s customary rates for insured services, Peters said.

A U.S. ground ambulance ride costs four to five times that of a Manitoba transport, added Scott Noble, Southern Health’s regional director of emergency medical services.

Anderson told The Carillon it was the first time Piney council heard "actual figures" on the agreement, whose full text has never been made public, despite being the only one of its kind in Manitoba.

Taking questions from the audience, Peters acknowledged the transition to the new agreement hasn’t been without hiccups. He promised to publish a pamphlet with detailed answers to commonly asked questions within a "couple of months."

One resident asked Peters why that pamphlet wasn’t created last summer.

"It’s my fault," he replied.

"The devil’s in the details," Anderson said after the meeting, making it crucial for the province to provide clear, comprehensive information so residents can make quick, informed decisions in an emergency.

The reeve noted two hours of discussion proved the inadequacy of last summer’s flyer.

"That one-page handout did nothing for the people here."

Anderson also questioned the wisdom of eliminating U.S. specialist care, saying he’s concerned Piney seniors won’t make the trek to Winnipeg or Steinbach for specialist services not offered in Vita.

"We’re only talking like 800-some people here. They’ve saved millions of dollars by not building a hospital in this corner. Spend a few of those savings."

Questions from residents zeroed in on the agreement’s definition of specialist care, noting some family doctors in Roseau can perform minor elective surgeries. Peters said all surgeries must be done in Manitoba to qualify for coverage.

"You can go down there and you can get anything done, but that doesn’t mean that the provincial health plan will pay for anything," he cautioned.

Calling diagnostic services "a sticky area," Peters said exploratory scans like x-rays are covered if ordered by a family physician, but not covered if intended for a specialist, such as most MRI and CT scans.

Many locals noted the changes to the agreement now subject them to Manitoba’s diagnostic wait times, and require them to drive longer distances to see a specialist.

Those with a Roseau family doctor must now also find a Manitoba family doctor to write them prescriptions recognized in Manitoba, a licensing issue Peters said is up to the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba to resolve.

La Verendrye MLA Dennis Smook, who said he "wasn’t privy" to the government’s decision to scale back the agreement, pledged to relay prescription and other concerns to the health minister.

A second public meeting scheduled for last night in Sprague was cancelled due to road and weather conditions. It has been rescheduled for March 21 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Sprague Community Hall.

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