Tagged: journalism

Rural health care needs help

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.

Me without my blazer, because, well, you know.

Me without my blazer, because, well, you know.

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.

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My take: Sargent & Victor & Me

Last Tuesday, my classmates and I went to see the play Sargent & Victor & Me for a journalism assignment. It’s a one-woman show written and performed by Debbie Patterson, directed by Arne MacPherson, and presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba.

Walking into the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg, I was taken aback at how large the set was for only one person. I counted six tables, five chairs and four groups of four food hampers. The set was made to resemble a local food bank. 

At first, I was a little skeptical to learn it was a one-woman act. I haven’t been to many plays before, and I had never been to a show with only one cast member.

Despite my skepticism, I was intrigued it was about Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s West End gets a bad rap, so I was looking forward to see what Debbie would bring to the conversation. I was also excited to see how she would incorporate her struggles with multiple sclerosis.

Throughout the play, Debbie played eight different characters: Gillian, Bob, Pastor Giles Mitchell, Tom, Theresa, Gracie, Sharon and Fred. The characters ranged from seven to 90-years old.

I just remember thinking “Holy crap. She’s good.”

As I said, I haven’t been to many plays before, but I have such admiration for actors. Remembering all those lines is impressive, and being so vulnerable like that is something I could never do.

What I loved most was her seamless ability to go in and out of characters. Not only with their words, but their accents, mannerisms, body movements, etc. The writing for the play and the acting were both amazing.

I found the use of radio clips very effective. Sean Kavanagh’s voice is quite recognizable, so it felt like I could have been listening to real Winnipeg news stories. I also thought the music was used very effectively.

From a journalistic perspective, I loved that these were the real words of real people Debbie interviewed. It reminded me that storytelling comes in many different forms, and getting creative with the way we share someone’s story can be very refreshing.

I liked how Debbie was able to give a voice to her disease.

I don’t have MS, it has me.” 

“The things I can’t do are outweighing the things I can do.”

I got teary-eyed at a few points throughout the play. When she describes being with her family in Thunder Bay and realizing it was the last time she would be there, or when she talks about coming to terms and learning to cope with her broken body.

I didn’t really love how I was waiting for something to happen that didn’t. It didn’t do much in the way of changing misconceptions or offering solutions. And, I wanted it to bring deeper insight into the West End. I suppose it did a good job of illustrating the varied voices and opinions of the West End, but I feel most people are already aware of those opinions.

For someone who hasn’t seen many plays, I very much enjoyed this one. Overall, I thought it was well written, acted and executed by the whole team. If you have the chance to check it out, I highly recommend it. It plays at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film until March 9.

My take: A Thousand Farewells

As far back as, let’s say the seventh grade, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.

I remember watching the evening news with my parents. It was so exciting to see Canadian reporters all over the world sharing stories to us people back home. Unfortunately, most of the stories were of death and destruction — that just seemed to be the nature of things.

Even so, I was fascinated.

I realized the importance of sharing global stories. I wanted to know what was going on overseas, and I wanted others to want to know, too.

I used to watch CNN reporters like Lisa Ling, and I wanted to be her. When I watch Anthony Bourdain travel the world and report on “Parts Unknown,” I think ‘Man, can I take over your job when you retire?’ And when guest speaker Michel Cormier came to speak at Red River College last semester about his book The Legacy of Tiananman Square, I was captivated by his stories.

So naturally, when I realized we were assigned to read A Thousand Farewells by Nahlah Ayed — a CBC foreign correspondent — for our photo 2 (3)journalism class, I was looking forward to it.

An inside look into a journalist’s experience in a fallen Baghdad? Awesome.

Although the stories in the book are sad and often times unpleasant, they’re important.

As a future journalist and wannabe foreign correspondent, an accurate depiction of what this job entailed was never really clear. I knew that being so close to war would be dangerous and devastating, but I never really thought about all the difficulties a foreign correspondent could face doing the job they loved. Her personal struggles really helped me see the realities of being a journalist overseas, and what that career could look like for me.

She had to make a lot of tough calls, and her safety was often called into question. Is talking to this person when they’re clearly distraught worth the story? Do I leave out pertinent information from my stories so audiences back home will get it? Do I stay in a place where bombs are going off around me?

Ultimately, Ayed had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I appreciate her honesty. Because, it was obviously just me being naive, but PTSD isn’t something you think about when you’re young and dreaming about telling stories abroad.

However, aside from my personal interest in her life story, what made the book such a powerful read were the real-life stories. When a global news story gets covered, that is often what’s missing. The evening news snippets and articles in our local newspaper are quick to show footage and photographs of explosions and give us death toll numbers, but they lack the raw, real-life stories Ayed masterfully shares in her book.

And that is really unfortunate.

As Ayed says in the book, “People are the story.”

Although the dates, countries, religions and history are all important to any journalistic piece, it’s not what makes the story captivating. Ayed reminds journalists people are driven to stories that make them feel something.

And I think that’s why I enjoyed this book. Not only did I learn about the Middle East’s — at times extremely confusing — history, and gain insight into a mysterious possible career, but I felt something.

If the book was missing anything, it was a clear genre. Was it memoir? Was it a history book? Was it a journalistic piece on a series of interviews? I’d like to say she had a good mixture of all three, but some chapters were extremely history heavy — which at times was difficult to follow — and the overall flow wasn’t always there.

And, the only thing I can say for sure that I didn’t like was the timeline. The chapters jumped back and forth, and had she written them in chronological order, it would have been a much easier read.

While I was about halfway through A Thousand Farewells, I took an evening off from reading and watched a documentary on death squad leaders in Indonesia called The Act of Killing.  The film focuses on the story of Anwar Congo and his friends as they helped the military kill more than one million communists in less than one year, in 1965.

The film was similar to the book I left at home, because, like the book, I was unaware of much of the history. However, with the film I was left with a clear understanding of what 1965 Indonesia looked like. Unlike the book, I thought the film did an excellent job of weaving in important dates, names and history.

And who knows, maybe that was because of the difference in media platforms, or maybe it was just the overall complicated history of the Middle East, it’s hard to say.

The film and the book really reminded me how the stories of foreign countries that make it to our TV screens and newspapers more often than not tend to be sad ones. They tend to be stories of death, destruction, human rights violations, political messes, etc. — and both had their fair share of that.

But what the film lacked that A Thousand Farewells didn’t, was the beauty behind it all.

Although the Middle East wasn’t a safe place, bombs were going off, a lot of its buildings had been destroyed, and a sad story could be found around every corner, Ayed came to love it. She was sad to leave. She was affected by it’s people and their stories.

But what I think affected me most about the story is that it reiterated the kind of journalist that I want to be.

I want to be the kind of journalist who can find the beauty in the seemingly un-beautiful. I want to be the kind of journalist who can make those tough calls and put myself in uncomfortable situations. And I want to be the kind of journalist who can share a person’s story and make others feel something.

Because that’s what good journalism is all about, right?