Pro­test­ers say care will be out of reach if out­pa­tient physio cut

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - JANE GERSTER jane.gerster@freep­ress.mb.ca

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.”

MIKE DEAL / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

‘We ex­pect the re­gions to man­age within their bud­gets,’ Health Min­is­ter Kelvin Go­ertzen said.

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