Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Manitoba Liberals call for immediate action on Meth crisis

Manitoba Liberals are calling for immediate action by the Pallister Government, and the Health Minister in particular, to deal with what is a genuine crisis in methamphetamine addiction that is killing Manitobans, putting people on the frontline at risk, and tearing apart families who are pushed to the breaking point trying to find help for their loved ones. 
In the past month, we have heard from people across Manitoba that there is a meth crisis in their community, and that there are not enough provincial resources to deal with it.
We heard it from the mother of an addict in Brandon, who told us it is a problem in rural and northern Manitoba, and that it’s impossible to access care. We heard it at the Main Street Project. We hear it from homelessness advocates and health professionals, who say they are seeing people from all walks of life who have lost everything because of their crystal meth addiction.
The Pallister government is doing virtually nothing to deal with a problem that is very serious and needs attention now.
Windy Sinclair recently froze to death after she left a hospital where she was to be treated for her meth addiction. She was one of many Manitobans struggling with a brutal addiction to a drug that is toxic, cheap, and leads to psychosis in its users, which makes them a danger to themselves and others.
What is needed is a safe place for them to go. But virtually no such places exist. Neither the Main Street Project nor hospitals will take them, and Manitoba’s treatment programs are geared toward alcohol detox and 12-step programs – not meth.
The need is clear.
Manitoba needs an effective plan, to take people from addiction through recovery. When Liberal MLA Dr Jon Gerrard raised these issues with the Pallister government in the last legislative session, his questions were evaded or ignored. (Question Period - October 27, 2017 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwN5JQUWims&feature=youtu.be)
We are not going to wait for the Pallister government to develop a plan. This is what is needed:
Step 1: There is an urgent need for “Drug Stabilization Units” – spaces where people in meth withdrawal can be held safely. There is a need for about 40 spaces in Winnipeg. These involve a safe place and a private room with locks where people can be assessed, and a treatment plan developed. Patients would stay for 15-30 days. Police or Paramedics could take people straight there.
Step 2: There is a need for funding transitional housing with mental health supports in-house – a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health workers and/or a psychiatric nurse who can monitor and administer medication for up to 4 months. Morberg House in St. Boniface is providing these services.  However, additional capacity along the lines of what is delivered at Morberg House, is needed.
Step 3: People in recovery can move to their own housing with less intensive support for up to two years.
In addition, we need the Province to provide adequate supports so that people seeking treatment can get the care they need when they need it. This can be as simple as funding a psychiatric nurse or nurse practitioner at sites like the Main Street Project.
There must also be investments in prevention, including public awareness programs to warn Manitobans about the dangers of meth use. While the focus has been on opioids and the dangers of fatal overdoses from fentanyl and carfentanil, or from impaired driving related to cannabis, the province is silent on the deadly serious problem of meth.
To be clear about how serious this all is, we need only to look at the case of Windy Sinclair.
The Manitoba Government cannot plead poverty when the Federal Government has increased funding for mental health and for housing, specifically social housing.
The costs of inaction – both in lives and in money - far outweigh the potential costs of solving this problem. We have heard that meth addicts run the risk of freezing their feet because they can’t feel them. We have heard that families are being torn apart not just by a loved one’s addiction, but because the costs of private treatment are so great, it is breaking them financially.
Every single Manitoban has known someone with an addiction. It touches every family. This government needs to send a message to Manitoba families facing this struggle: You are not alone.
The Manitoba government must follow up with meaningful action to ensure that we have a system for treating addiction that is humane and safe.
Manitoba Liberal Caucus:
Dougald Lamont- Manitoba Liberal Leader
Jon Gerrard – MLA for River Heights
Judy Klassen – MLA for Kewatinook
Cindy Lamoureux – MLA for Burrows

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The wait times for back surgery in Manitoba are far too long

There is a serious problem with wait times for back surgery in Manitoba and it has become much worse over the past year.  Today I tell you the story of one person. This individual has asked to remain anonymous, but I share this today so that there can be more awareness of this problem, and so that this situation can be addressed.

This individual has needed back surgery (fusion for L1 to L5 vertebrae) for more than three years.   He was seen by his own family physician who then referred him to the Pan Am Pain Clinic.  He was finally seen by his surgeon at the Health Sciences Centre, two years later in October of 2016.  The surgeon who saw him at the Health Sciences Centre agreed that he needed surgery.  At that time, he committed verbally that he expected the surgery would occur in 9-12 months.  It is now more than 14 months later and he is still waiting, and there is still no surgery date in sight.

The doctor seems to be able to get operating room time only for trauma patients who present in the Emergency room and even they languish in a hospital bed for weeks before the surgery is done.

The costs to the system over the last seven years have been horrendous.  He has had untold back injections, 4 Rhizotomies, one of which apparently caused a serious infection which required intravenous antibiotics (involving at least six hospital visits to have the Pic Lines inserted, cleared and removed) and twice a week visits to the IV clinic, plus the cost of the antibiotics and untold pain meds, including opioids, and multitudes of doctors' appointments.

In the interim, he has been in almost unremitting pain.  It affects his life, and the lives of those close to him, daily, severely limiting what he and his family can do.  It has been more than 3 years since he has needed a disabled parking permit.  Days of golf using a golf cart and going for walks are two years plus in the past.  All of this is wearing him down.   As he is less fit now that before, there is a concern the surgery could be even more dangerous as a result.  The doctor and his staff are very concerned and frustrated as they have to deal daily with other patients with similar conditions.  They will no longer reply to questions by email.  There are at least five other patients who are at some stage along this sad, frustrating journey, and perhaps many more.  People talk of going elsewhere to get the surgery (BC or the US) without any understanding of the cost or time spans involved.  That idea is not an option for this individual and should not have to be. 

The Minister of Health needs to address this issue urgently.  I have written to him so he is aware of it.  We also need to have the wait times for back surgery publicly reported so that Manitobans can find out easily what the current wait will be.  If you are also waiting, please send me your story as each story can help along this journey to getting this problem addressed. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Private clinics and their charges for essential medical services in Manitoba

Statement by Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader - today
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen’s claim that he only recently learned that a private clinic in Manitoba is charging $650 so patients can cut to the front of the line for echocardiograms is simply not credible.
Goertzen claimed to have heard in the media about the clinic being at risk of violating the Canada Health Act, but he has continued to defend the clinic, as did his department of health. It is hard to believe that he was unaware, especially given the implied approval he has given to other private services like MRIs.
We want to make our position clear:
Private clinics in Manitoba should not be charging fees so patients can jump the queue for diagnostic tests.
These tests should be available to all Manitobans at public expense, based on medical need - and could be, but the Pallister Government is starving the health care system of funds.
If these private clinics are not willing to provide services based on medical need to all Manitobans, they should be barred from receiving any public funding.
The Pallister Government is wrong to ignore the principles of Canada’s health care system enshrined in the Canada Health Act.
Our health care system is supposed to be based on fundamental principles of fairness, because while anyone can get sick, not everyone can afford the care that will save their life. Letting people jump to the front of the line because they are higher status, more powerful or have more money is not a convenience, it is a form of corruption.
The fact that services are available in other provinces is irrelevant: it is time to stop the continual erosion of those principles.
We need to be clear about the issues here, because Minister Goertzen and the Pallister government have been relentlessly misleading Manitobans on health care on a daily basis for months.
They may say otherwise, but the evidence shows that:
• Letting people pay to cut in line won’t reduce wait times.
• The Federal Government is not cutting Health funding - but should increase their contribution.
• The Pallister Government is cutting health care - they spent $100-million less than promised last year.
• Quality health care costs less than bad health care
• We can afford to, and should invest in better health care
The argument that private spending on health care can reduce the burden on the public system is an admission that we are not spending enough money in the system.
- Dougald Lamont, Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party
1. The Canada Health Act is the law of the land, and the Pallister Government cannot ignore the law
The Federal government has expressed concern that a private clinic may be violating the principles of the Canada Health Act.
The Canada Health Act exists to ensure that all Canadians have equal access to health care.
In Canada, our system is based on the principle that people will get treatment based on need, and not that they can jump to the front of the line because they are higher status, more powerful or have more money.
It is time to stop the continual erosion of those principles.
While anyone can get sick, not everyone can pay for care.
2. Letting people pay to cut in line won’t improve wait times - because so few people can afford to pay
Dr. Alan Katz, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy has said the clinic plan “is not going to shorten wait times. Evidence from around the world has shown that that's not the case.”
There is a simple reason for this. The number of people who can actually afford to pay out of pocket - or who even have private insurance through work - is tiny.
The right-wing, anti-public health care Fraser Institute found that only 50,000-60,000 of Canada’s population of 36-million seek specialist treatment in the U.S. each year.
That is only 0.1% of the population.
The vast majority of Manitobans, including middle-class Manitobans cannot afford these fees, to say nothing of the record number of people living in poverty.
3. The Federal Government *is not* cutting Health funding - but should increase their contribution
The Federal Government is giving Manitoba a 3% increase in health care this year, and into the future. On top of that 3%, the Federal Government offered targeted funds for mental health and kidney disease, which the Pallister government at first refused.
When this change to the funding formula was made under the Harper Conservatives, PCs like Brian Pallister and Kelvin Goertzen were silent. Pallister suggested that Manitoba was flush with tax revenues.
It is true that funding was going up by 6% a year, and that 3% is a lower increase.
Should the Federal Government increase its contribution? Yes.
But it is not true to say that the Federal Government is cutting.
4. The Pallister Government *is* cutting health care.
The PC government is cutting health care - by cutting budgets, firing people and/or “deleting” positions.
The government’s numbers from the 2016-2017 public accounts showed that the Pallister government spent $100-million less than they budgeted.
The specific cuts included:
- Aboriginal and Northern Health Office: Cut by $1.19-million
- Addictions Policy and Support: Cut by $1.46-million
Funding to Health Authorities:
- Acute Care Services - Cut by $12.13-million
- Long Term Care Services - Cut by $6.4-million
- Home Care Services - $2.17-million
- Community and Mental Health Services - $15.9-million
- Emergency Response and Transport Services - $12.5-million
5. Quality health care costs less than bad health care
Getting things right once means you don’t spend time and money fixing mistakes - and this is especially true in health care.
The Mayo Clinic in the U.S. is world-famous for the quality of its care - but it is in the bottom 15% in terms of costs.
Manitoba can afford a better health care system - and while an excellent health care system takes effort and work to set up, it makes everyone better off in the long run - including the people paying for it.
6. We can afford a better public health system
The Pallister government keeps using the word “unsustainable” and fearmongering about the province’s finances to justify cuts to health care.
The main reason that governments are facing financial troubles is not overspending. It is because they have been cutting taxes for years.
Between 1999 and 2008, the Manitoba NDP cut $1-billion in taxes. If taxes were returned to what they were under the PCs in 1999, Manitoba would have no deficit.
The Federal government has shrunk to its smallest size since the 1930s.
The Corporate tax was cut from 30% to 15%, the small business tax was reduced to 9%, and personal income taxes at all levels and the GST were all reduced.
For decades, we have been told that if we cut taxes, governments will get more revenue because people who have been avoiding taxes will, all of a sudden, start paying them.
Instead we’ve seen rampant tax avoidance and tens of billions of dollars flowing out of Canada into tax havens, while governments cut services.
Our problem is not that governments are bankrupt and can’t pay their bills, but that they are deadbeats and won’t.
Governments need to pay their bills, and everyone needs to pay their fair share of taxes.