Funny story: today I won an award (I’ll give you some background information).
Every year, the Eric and Jack Wells Foundation gives two first-year and two second-year students awards for excellence in journalism. We’re all encouraged to submit work we’re proud of, and so I did.
About a month ago I wrote an article about the poor state of rural emergency rooms. It was a difficult story to delve into in 750 to 1,000 words, but I did my best to do it justice.
My teacher, the incomparable James Turner, told us if we submitted work we had to dress nice, because there would be photos afterward. This morning I made sure I had my nice maroon blazer ready to go.
When 11 a.m. rolled around and it was time to go to the award ceremony, I opted not to go grab my blazer because I honestly didn’t think I was going to win.
When they called my name I did the most Ashley thing ever, and let out an OH NO. I was not at all prepared to deliver a speech, so I nervously thanked my teachers and the foundation for recognizing my hard work.
But honestly, the award is so much more than money or a certificate. As I wrote in a previous post, being surrounded by so much talent is difficult sometimes. Self-doubt isn’t something I’m proud of, but I can’t lie, it exists.
So I’d like to thank my teachers and the Eric and Jack Wells Foundation not only for giving me this award, but for reminding me that I am good at what I do. As I mentioned in my speech, I’ve noticed an improvement in my work, not only from the start of this program, but even from a few months ago. In Creative Communications, we’re constantly encouraged to push ourselves, so as a writer, I feel like I’m always learning and growing. There’s nothing quite like others noticing that.
Now for the good stuff. Here’s the story that got me this award:
Rural health care needs help
Winnipeg is home to just over half of all Manitobans, but more than 75 per cent of all physicians work there. Despite the provincial government’s plans to improve the state of rural medical care, the province still struggles to provide the care necessary for people who don’t live in its capital city.
Seventeen of 64 hospitals in rural Manitoba had emergency room suspensions in 2012. The emergency room in Vita temporarily shut down due to a shortage of doctors in October 2012, but it never re-opened. Beausejour residents petitioned last year to get doctors available at all hours, yet that hospital still remains on-call. And Lakeshore General Hospital doesn’t have a doctor as of late last year due to a doctor shortage, announced the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.
These are only a few examples.
Today, there is no emergency room in Birtle, MB. The town doesn’t even have a medical clinic anymore. Now, the only medical facility in the town of approximately 1,300 people is a nursing home. For emergency care, residents need to travel at least 20 minutes to Russell, but depending on the day, they may need to drive an extra 10 to Shoal Lake. Neither of those hospitals has a fully functioning ER, either. They have nurse-triage clinics, where a doctor will be called in if necessary.
Marc Simard was competing in a quad derby in Birtle last summer when his quad rolled on top of him. After complaining that his ribs were broken, an ambulance took him to Shoal Lake, where there was no doctor on staff. He received painkillers and X-rays from nurses. They called in the doctor at around 8 p.m. when they suspected internal bleeding.
“[The doctor] wasn’t happy to be there, it was very evident,” said Simard’s wife, Regan Simard. “He kept checking his watch and looking at the clock, kind of just annoyed at the situation.”
Her husband was scheduled for a CT scan at the Brandon Regional Health Centre the next morning, an hour and a half away. The doctor advised Simard’s husband to stay in Shoal Lake overnight, and for her to go home. But in the middle of the night her husband called, begging to be sent to Brandon.
“They kind of just shook it off. So I got there, and when I walked in I could hear him screaming,” she said.
The 100-pound woman strained to lift her 225-pound, six-foot-three-inch tall husband into their truck, and then raced down the highway to Brandon in record time. He was in surgery within half an hour.
“The care he received in Brandon was extraordinary and I can’t say a bad thing about them. Shoal Lake, on the other hand, I have nothing good to say,” said Simard. “They didn’t take his care seriously.”
At Hamiota Health Centre, Charity Martin said things aren’t much different.
Her grandmother awoke one morning last fall unable to eat without vomiting. The next day, the 85-year-old was so weak from not eating she decided it was time to see a physician. Despite that, she was not able to get immediate care.
“She called the hospital, but they said that they had no doctors on-call and to phone a help line,” said Martin. “While on the phone with them, they said to call 911 if it was an emergency. It seemed as though no one wanted to help her. We were more than willing to drive her to a doctor, but she had to wait until Monday to visit the hospital.”
“Our doctors in the area are getting worn out. And then the ones we do have are too tired to work.”
Aaron Dubyna is in his third year of medicine at the University of Manitoba. He had training in rural Manitoba and enjoyed it, but he said many people don’t understand doctors are also people with lives, interests and families outside the hospital.
“Each physician can only work so much,” said Dubyna. “My father is also a physician and often worked 70 to 90 hours in seven days. I don’t think it’s fair to expect physicians to work double a normal person and sacrifice their families and their own sleep and health.”
Student loan rebates and grants are both part of the provincial government’s plan to entice young physicians to start their career in remote and rural Manitoba communities. In its 2011 Economic Action Plan, the Government of Canada also announced it would invest around $9 million each year to forgive a portion of student loans for family doctors and nurses who work in rural communities.
“Many of my classmates intend to work in rural Manitoba after the completion of their training,” said Dubyna. “The incentives for young doctors to work in rural Manitoba are excellent.”
But for Dubyna, who plans to specialize in surgery, most operating rooms are in Winnipeg.
“I would be willing to work in a rural centre that has operating suites in their hospital. In fact, Brandon, Selkirk and Winkler all have new facilities I would be happy to work at,” he said.
Dubyna has one final year and then five years of residency. Although rural communities continue to struggle for proper medical care, he has a positive outlook on his future career in Manitoba.
“Overall, I think that Manitoba health is heading in the right direction to ensure adequate numbers of physicians at all sites in rural Manitoba,” he said.
At the end of the day, our province needs to find a balance between what the patients need and the care doctors are able to provide.