WINNIPEG -- It's been years since a husband and wife doctor team who moved to the Town of Niverville and opened a medical clinic. But now the town's only clinic is facing an uncertain future.

Dr. Chris Burnett and his wife Dr. Mairi Burnett have always worked together at their Niverville family medical clinic, Open Health Clinic. The couple own the only clinic in the rural Manitoban town which cares for 6,500 patients in the area.

But a recent diagnosis of bone cancer is preventing Mairi from coming in. Chris said with just him working alone in a fee-for-service model, he is uncertain of the clinic's future.


Dr. Chris Burnett (right) and his wife Dr. Mairi Burnett (left) have worked together at their Niverville family medical clinic for years. (Source: Michelle Gerwing/ CTV News Winnipeg)

"We're not sure where this is going," Chris told CTV News. "We're trying desperately to find, but at this stage my savings are going to run out and we're not sure what's going to happen."

Chris said he has some potential fill-in options, but nothing concrete.

Half an hour away in Ste. Anne, Man., the town was celebrating a filled doctor vacancy. On Monday the town's rural hospital emergency went back to 24-7 services. Since October 2018, it's been operating only 12 hours a day.

"The bigger picture is the town of Ste. Anne is growing quite fast," said Ste. Anne Mayor Rechard Pelletier. "We need doctors to meet the need of our people."

Pelletier said one reason it took so long to find a doctor was because the position required the doctor to be bilingual.

Ste. Anne and the Burnetts are not alone in their difficulties to fill vacancies. In a written statement to CTV News, Doctors Manitoba, organization that represents doctors in the province, said rural and northern communities across Canada struggle to recruit and retain doctors.

"An expanded network of locum coverage would help fill short-term interruptions in coverage in smaller communities," the statement reads.

Since Open Health Clinic in Niverville is private, they are responsible for hiring staff.

Dr. Chris Burnett

Dr. Chris Burnett (pictured) works and co-owns the Open Health Clinic in the Town of Niverville. (source: Michelle Gerwing/ CTV News Winnipeg)

Niverville Mayor Myron Dyck said the town has been notified of the clinic's situation, but added he's not sure if the town can help.

"We stand at the ready to see what it is we can do," said Dyck. "We've asked a bunch of questions, we're waiting for a bunch of answers to come in."

Burnett said a consultant is coming in to see if there is a different model to keep Open Health Clinic running long-term. Right now the Burnetts are looking for a solution for the next few months to keep patient care in the community.

"This is our community, this is where we go to church, this is where we have friends," said Chris. "I want to continue working here, I just can't afford to keep on working in the current situation we're doing."


Niverville council has said it is engaging with an independent expert to help in the process of evaluating the "short and long-term sustainability of Niverville Open Health," it said in a news release.

Council said it is working with Kathy McPhail, who is the former CEO of Southern Health-Sante Sud.

She will work on a report that will provide council with the "due diligence required to sustain accessible healthcare in the community, address challenges faced by Open Health, and align with the broad goal of 'Investing in Better Care, Closer to Home' by Shared Health."

The report is expected to be presented to council on or before Feb. 14.

-- with files from CTV's Devon McKendrick