By Chelsea Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Finishing off their three-day caucus retreat in Brandon, NDP leader Wab Kinew marked his last day in the Wheat City demanding health care cuts in Westman come to an end.
Kinew said his time in Brandon served as a chance to connect and listen to residents, and the top concern aired was health-care coverage in the province.
“One of the things that jumps out over and over, again is the cuts to health care,” Kinew said. “There continues to be an urgent health-care crisis and it comes down to the staffing cuts that we have seen. That really needs to be addressed.”
Health-care cuts continue to impact the Westman region, he said.
Nurses are facing incredible stress due to the pressures they face, and the Brandon Regional Health Centre is not immune to these forces.
He added rural Manitobans have also faced increasingly long wait times for ambulances. This experience has been compounded by paramedic services transporting people to health-care facilities outside the city.
“When those firefighter/paramedics are out on the road transporting patients they can’t respond to calls here in Brandon _ that just further aggravates the situation,” Kinew said.
In August The Sun reported Praire Mountain Health had only two-thirds the number of needed paramedics working. In some areas of the province, Manitoba Association of Healthcare Professionals members have told their union that there are 24-hour periods where 10 to 15 ambulances are out of service at one time. The Sun also reported Prairie Mountain Health spent approximately $24 million to hire nurses from private agencies to fill staffing vacancies at health-care facilities in the region from January 2019 to May 2021.
The NDP is working to address these health-care issues, Kinew said. A key part of their strategy will include including utilizing Brandon University and Assiniboine Community College to train people to work in the health-care sector.
Kinew added a short-term solution to alleviate health care pressures could include offering financial incentives to get nurses into high-priority areas and address the EMS wait situation.
“You have nurses who, maybe, left recently because they’re stressed out and they’re getting mandatory overtime. Their skills are still sharp, they still know how to work in our health-care system,” Kinew said. “If we provide a financial incentive we can bring them back.”
Recruitment of health-care professionals is also key to creating a robust health-care system, he added, and this will involve looking at other provinces and embracing immigration to fill staffing shortages.
“We’re not going to fix this crisis overnight, it’s going to take years in some cases to fix the damage that these cuts have caused, but we have to start now,” Kinew said.
During the caucus retreat, the party toured the former Brandon Indian Residential School site.
“No matter where I go, what I’ll be doing is remembering all that was lost, but also honouring the resilience of the residential school survivors and what they have to teach us,” Kinew said. “I hope Brandonites and people in Westman can use Sept. 30 as an opportunity to reflect, to learn and to commit to making sure we live up that phrase, `Every child matter.”’
The province has a strong role in strengthing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, Kinew said. He would like to see a task force put in place to ensure the site of the former residential school is properly commemorated while addressing the impacts of intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities.
The caucus held a barbecue meet and greet Thursday at the Riverbank Discovery Centre to connect with Brandonites. Kinew said he spoke with some people who voted for the federal NDP party for the first time in the 2021 election.
“I think that they did a lot of good, and for us, we’re the provincial NDP and we’re working hard to win the support of people in Brandon and Westman and Parkland and certainly a rising tide lifts all boats, but we can’t take anything for granted,” Kinew said. “It’s up to us now to work really hard to help people understand why our plan for health care, why our plan for the province, our plan to grow the economy is the right one.”
Chelsea Kemp is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brandon Sun . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.