December 9, 2023

Opposition leaders brought stories of insensitive hospital treatment and a growing diagnostic procedure delay to the floor of the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday in their continuing bid to paint the governing Progressive Conservatives as incapable of managing health care.

During the first two days of the spring session, Premier Heather Stefanson has weathered question period jabs from NDP Leader Wab Kinew over the recent death of a Health Sciences Centre patient awaiting care at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

Kinew added to the health care malaise by raising the case of Philomina Zachariah, an 83-year-old retired nurse whose family tried in vain to get her placed in a long-term care home.

Zachariah, who suffers from heart and kidney ailments, was admitted to Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg in December and discharged several weeks later.

The hospital convinced her daughter, Marilyn Zachariah, to care for her mother at home.

“We said, OK, we’ll go home, we’ll use the home care, we’ll do our best. We’ll trust the system. We lasted six weeks at home,” Marilyn told reporters in the rotunda of the Manitoba Legislature.

Her mother returned to Victoria Hospital in January and stayed nearly one month before an official said she would have to be discharged again, said Marilyn, who said she pleaded for more time to find other arrangements.

“The response was, well, if you don’t give us an address … we’ll discharge her to the Main Street Project,” said Marilyn, who said she was shocked the patient care manager suggested placing her mother in a downtown centre that delivers services to people who suffer from addictions.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority disputes that was the case.

“While we can’t get into too much detail as a result of patient privacy legislation, we can say this patient was not homeless and there was never any plan or intent to send them to a shelter,” a WRHA spokesperson said in a statement.

Marilyn says following her conversation with the hospital, her mother was moved from a semi-private room to stay in the fifth bed in a four-bed unit while arrangements were made for her to leave.

“She was crammed between other beds to the point where people that were in the designed spaces for the beds couldn’t even move freely or walk around,” she said.

“She was crammed into this space with no call bell with absolutely no care and just left there, because they were trying to put pressure on me to get her out.”

The WRHA said it understands families and caregivers face tough decisions when their loved ones are about to leaves hospital and that can be compounded by stress, relationship dynamics and even uncertainty as to whether their relatives will have their needs met.

“Planning for continued care involves a diverse team of clinical specialists who support this transition,” the health authority’s statement said, adding workers try to exercise empathy and compassion.

At the same time, the WRHA stated “extending stays in hospital for people who are deemed to medically not require hospital care ultimately creates delays for patients who do need hospital care and are waiting for admission.”

Marilyn Zachariah said she took her mother home again in early February, but she only lasted four days. Her mother is now receiving palliative care at Riverview Health Centre.

Kinew raised this case during question period, prompting the premier to state she would look into it even though, she said, it is inappropriate to raise such cases in the legislative chamber.

Marilyn also said her cousin had earlier met with Health Minister Audrey Gordon, pleading for help getting Philomina into a personal care home.

In a statement, Gordon’s office said every patient deserves care, but laid the responsibility for decisions about placing seniors in the hands of medical experts.

A man standing in the rotunda of the Manitoba Legislative Building.
Dr. Jeff Bresler, a dentist, said he was told by mail last fall he was getting an MRI. When no appointment was booked, he said he was told the wait is more than a year. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Dentist told MRI appointment could take a year

Earlier on Thursday, Liberal leader Dougald Lamont brought Winnipeg dentist Dr. Jeff Bresler to the legislature to share his story of being unable to obtain an MRI appointment.

Bresler said he received a letter in the fall informing him his appointment would be scheduled at Grace Hospital within weeks. When that did not happen, he called the hospital.

“The person that I spoke to informed me that the two MRI booking clerks are not in today and some people today are waiting a year for an MRI,” Bresler said, adding he was unable to even get on to a waiting list.

Gordon said later in the day the province is making headway reducing backlogs for diagnostic procedures. She suggested staffing shortages are to blame for the increasing wait times for MRIs.


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