65 transitional care beds will help smooth patients’ move home, Winnipeg health officials say

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It’s being touted as a step toward improved services for seniors and other patients in need of transitional care when they leave hospital, but the largest union in the province says it’s a move that takes Manitoba closer to health-care privatization.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced Thursday it plans to open up 65 new transitional beds at the River Ridge II care centre on Scotia Street, run by All Seniors Care. The private corporation is headquartered in Toronto and won the $9.2-million, two-year deal to develop the transitional units. The contract expires in the fall of 2019.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, said the announcement came as a big surprise. She said the province and WRHA shouldn’t be outsourcing health services to the private sector.

“These health care dollars are going to end up in a for-profit company, and they are going to end up in Ontario. Why isn’t that money being left here in Manitoba?” she asked.

Gina Trinidad, WRHA chief health operations officer, said the beds could help hospital patients get back home sooner and improve long-term health outcomes. The plan is tailored for stable hospital patients who are candidates for more short-term interim care upon discharge, she said.

“Bringing together clients in a home-like setting improves confidence, independence and, most importantly, health outcomes.”

Transitional care bed announcement in winnipeg

From left: Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, WRHA chief health operations officer Gina Trinidad, All Seniors Care senior vice-president Joshua Kuhl, and Manitoba Association of Senior Centres president Tom Farrell. (CBC)

“By offering an environment better suited to each client’s care needs, we promote function and quality of life, resulting in improved probability of returning to the community.”

Trinidad said the end goal is to shift acute- and emergency-care responsibilities to the Health Sciences Centre, Grace and St. Boniface hospitals, and concentrate sub-acute and transitional care at Concordia, Seven Oaks and Victoria hospitals.

Secure units

Patients, mainly seniors, will for the most part be housed in 12-unit pods spread across two floors at River Ridge II. Nurses and therapists will monitor patients in pod areas, which are secured for safety reasons but include social areas where people can interact.

River Ridge transitional housing, Winnipeg

A look inside one of the home-like seating areas in River Ridge II. (Marianne Klowak/CBC)

The first 10 patients will move into River Ridge II in October, with waves of 10 new patients added each week until all 65 spots are filled.

“You can tell if you’ve had even the smallest look around this beautiful facility that it is well kept, it is well staffed and it is a wonderful place for seniors who need assistance and those who are living in various states of their life,” Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

The WRHA said transitional care beds will give patients time to organize long-term home care supports if needed, or provide time for health-care professionals to determine whether patients are in fact best suited for another “supportive housing environment” or care home.

‘Best of the best’

Tom Farrell, president of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, applauded the move.

“I think the seniors in this province … are always a little afraid when you talk about changes to things. But this is a change that I think is extremely positive,” he said.

‘This transitional-care environment will make a difference and will benefit patients … before returning home.’ – Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba health minister

Farrell said he is encouraged by the private-public partnership between the WRHA and All Seniors Care, and wants to see more such agreements in the future.

“This is a beautiful place. I think the people who are going to be served by it,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity to get out of the acute-care facilities and not have to be there while they are waiting to transition either to their own homes, to assisted living or [to] assisted-housing facilities. It really is the best of the best.”

All Seniors Care senior vice-president Joshua Kuhl said recent government-private sector collaborations in health-care systems across Canada have come out of a necessity to find more living options for seniors.

“One of the largest segments of the population in Canada is beginning to reach an age where additional care options are being explored and being created,” he said. “As that segment of the population ages, the need for alternative care measures will only increase.”

Changes to health-care

The announcement comes as the WRHA continues to seek savings after the Manitoba government told the health authority it has to trim $83 million from its budget this year.

The wave of changes to health care started in earnest with an announcement in spring that three hospital emergency rooms in Winnipeg will be closed.

Manitoba has long struggled to find enough hospital beds to meet demand, with particular issues surrounding seniors in care.

A report published in July found that out of six Canadian cities, Winnipeg had the most seniors in long-term care facilities who could otherwise be living at home, with the right supports.

At the time, Trinidad said the report’s findings validated the need for the WRHA’s new short-term intensive home care service. First announced in the spring, the short-term care system aims to free up hospital beds and improve patient flow, all while keeping more seniors living at home instead of in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

73% want public solutions: poll

But The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents more than 16,000 Manitoba health-care workers, maintains most people in the province don’t want private solutions to public health-care problems.

A Probe Research phone poll, commissioned by the union and published in July, suggests 73 per cent of 600 Winnipeggers surveyed want solutions to seniors’ home care to come from within the public system. Another 18 per cent were in favour of for-profit models, while the remaining nine per cent weren’t sure. The margin of error for a probablistic sample of this size is +/- 4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU

Michelle Gawronsky is president of MGEU. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Gawronsky worries about the private sector’s priorities.

“A for-profit [company] means the bottom line is going to come first, not the patient care. That’s just history,” she said.

Gawronsky said she hasn’t heard any details about the plan from the province, including whether the facility will be staffed by public or private employees. A provincial spokesperson confirmed the River Ridge jobs will go to WRHA workers.

A provincial spokesperson said the decision to open these 65 spots with the help of the private secor is about delivering better care.

“The previous NDP government made decisions based on ideology, we are focused on results and we will continue to look for partnerships to deliver those results,” a Manitoba Health spokesperson said in a statement.

“While the NDP and MGEU continues to defend the status quo, we are making the changes necessary to create a more sustainable health-care system that provides better care for Manitobans.”

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65 transitional care beds will help smooth patients’ move home, Winnipeg health officials say

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