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Call made for interprovincial northern health committee as locals fall through gaps

Local councillors and members of the public are calling for a regional health committee, hoping that such a group might be the key to making more health services available in Flin Flon.
Hospital bed monitor.

Local councillors and members of the public are calling for a regional health committee, hoping that such a group might be the key to making more health services available in Flin Flon.

The idea of such a committee was a topic of discussion at the March 19 Flin Flon city council meeting, where Greg and Maureen McBratney spoke, relaying their experiences with Maureen’s medical issues and the months-long administrative run-around the family experienced. Mayor George Fontaine, himself now back with council following a similar health emergency that required spending several months away from home, shared stories from his own family’s experiences. Both agreed that a more regional approach could help in the long run - but how exactly that would work is still unclear.

The McBratneys’ situation is well known locally. Last year, Maureen was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure and flown to Saskatoon for treatment. As Denare Beach residents with Saskatchewan health cards, the McBratneys had to stay in Saskatoon for nearly nine months - while the dialysis care Maureen needed was available at Flin Flon General Hospital, red tape around who could access it and which services Saskatchewan residents could get in Flin Flon prevented her from getting dialysis near home.

“It was the worst eight-and-a-half months I’ve ever spent anywhere,” said Greg.

“It took eight-and-a-half months for me to be allowed to come back to our home to have a life-saving treatment three times a week,” said Maureen.

Greg said one of the biggest things that helped the family’s campaign to get care for Maureen at home were letters sent from local councils and council members sent to provincial and public health officials, calling for the situation to be fixed. After contacting media outlets, having countless discussions and meetings with health officials on both sides of the border and working tirelessly for months, Maureen was finally approved for care in Flin Flon last month and began receiving dialysis care at Flin Flon General Hospital in early March.

“What I’m trying to do going forward is not only thanking this council and the other councils for their participation. Going forward, I’m going to ask those councils to take into consideration that we are a tri-community,” McBratney said.

“We have tri-community recreation and sports programs, we have tri-community tourism programs. If we don’t have health care, we have nothing.”

McBratney proposed a committee made up of elected officials from Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach to meet with provincial and regional health personnel, in an attempt to help bring more services and cut possible patient red tape for regional care.

“Going forward, we have to start acting as an area," he said.

Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach each have their own elected councils and mayors. While all three municipalities occasionally work on projects together, each works independently for things like taxation, recreation, infrastructure projects and the like. The three communities cover areas in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which can - as it did for the McBratneys - lead to logistical problems for people to access health services near home, especially for Saskatchewan residents since the nearest hospital is located in Manitoba. Some services at Flin Flon General Hospital, such as obstetrics and birth care and day surgery service, have been cut at the hospital in recent years, owing in large part to provincial budget reductions and staffing issues.

Maureen said such a committee could help bring further services to the hospital and allow all three communities to flourish, instead of the lack of those services possibly keeping people away.

“Going forward, companies might want to bring people up here for a mine. Trying to get people to come here, young people to come here, might be really hard if they can’t have a baby here or have basic things like that here,” she said.

Fontaine said that, having just come back home after a months-long family health emergency, he understood the issues being brought up, saying such a committee has already been proposed and that he and council would want to take part. When such ideas have been brought up in the past, councillors have voiced support, but no such committee has been announced.

“First, you understand that you’re preaching to the choir,” he said.

“What I think I’m hearing here is that you don’t have an actual plan, but you have an idea that says you’d like somebody from each community to represent us and work toward bettering that health system. That’s what our plan is. I don’t know how we’re going to work it out, but we will be taking part in anything that ties that in.”

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