Protesters say care will be out of reach if outpatient physio cut
A SMALL but boisterous crowd gathered outside the Manitoba legislature Thursday afternoon to protest looming cuts to outpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
In a contentious move, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is ready to close the bulk of its outpatient programming as soon as next month, for an expected savings of $1.5 million this fiscal year.
Patients, physiotherapists and the unions representing them were heartened last week when the WRHA decided it would use “clinical guidelines” instead of a means test to decide which small group of patients would still have access to the public service. However, many remain concerned the cost of private physiotherapy will prove prohibitive for Manitobans who won’t qualify but will require therapy to successfully recover.
“Patients first! Patients first!” the crowd chanted.
Shelley Kowalchuk, a physiotherapist at Health Sciences Centre who says she isn’t at risk of losing her job, said she went to the rally to speak for her patients, not her union.
Under the new system, HSC will house the only public outpatient programs, but Kowalchuk said that won’t fill the need.
“The government still thinks that Manitobans have private health coverage,” she said. “They think that Manitobans have enough coverage to have physio after complex injuries.”
Not so, Kowalchuk said.
At $60 a session, physio service can eat through insurance quickly for the small portion of the population that actually has it; most will get five or six sessions covered, she said, which isn’t enough in cases involving “complex injuries” that may require months of treatment.
“Private physio is out of reach for many people,” she said. “They can’t afford it, so they won’t get it.”
Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said it’s clear from the calls his organization has received that there is a lot of concern about health-care changes.
“We hear from our community partners, from students, from seniors and from so many other voices that Manitobans want a health-care system that’s there for them when they need it and where they need it,” he told the crowd.
“Cutting physiotherapists out from the public delivery is wrong. Cutting emergency rooms and closing them down is wrong.
“Cutting and closing urgent care clinics is wrong.”
Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents the majority of Winnipeg outpatient physiotherapists, says he’s increasingly offended by suggestions — particularly from the the Tory government — that rallying health-care workers “only care about our union cards,” not patient care.
“We’re part of different unions,” he said, “and we’re fighting for the same thing.”
‘We expect the regions to manage within their budgets,’ Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.