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Manitoba government promises $1.5B for Winnipeg hospital in lead up to election


The Manitoba government promised what it called the biggest health-care capital investment in the province's history on Wednesday, ahead of a provincial election campaign in which health care is expected to be a top issue.

The government promised $1.5 billion over six years to revamp the province's largest hospital -- the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg -- and to expand services.

Part of the money is to replace a 70-year-old building at the core of the facility and add a 10-storey tower with new patient rooms and health services.

"It will create space for new complex procedural and diagnostic services, and it will allow for the expansion of the adult emergency department and add more clinic spaces," Premier Heather Stefanson said.

The new modern facility would also offer more private rooms, which would give patients more personal space and reduce the risk of inter-patient infection, a health official said.

"This announcement also marks a significant step to reduce hospital-acquired infections that can be a reality in shared spaces," said Dr. Perry Gray, provincial head of medical specialist services.

The plan also involves the purchase by the hospital's foundation of the nearby Manitoba Clinic, a private operation that entered creditor protection last year after many physicians quit.

The announcement was the latest in a flurry of government promises leading up to the election scheduled for Oct 3.

The governing Progressive Conservatives have been trailing in opinion polls since the COVID-19 pandemic strained hospitals. The Tories have consistently faced criticism over long wait times and a shortage of health-care professionals.

The Opposition New Democrats pointed Wednesday to recent statistics from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which show median wait times in emergency departments and urgent care centres of almost three hours in June -- well above pre-pandemic levels. Some patients waited more than seven hours.

"The PCs are coming out and making these massive announcements in the hopes that Manitobans will forget their terrible track record on health care the past seven years," NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

The Tories faced questions on health care even before the pandemic. Roughly one year after winning the 2016 election under Brian Pallister, the Tories downgraded three of Winnipeg's six emergency departments into urgent care centres, which are not aimed at handling life-threatening issues.

Stefanson, who took over as premier in late 2021, has been using the slogan "healing health care" and has committed to greater spending than her predecessor.

Asagwara refused to say if the NDP would reopen any of the emergency departments closed by the Tories if the New Democrats win the election.

"In terms of what exactly we're going to do, that's going to be laid out as we get closer to the election," Asagwara said.

Wednesday's announcement came two days before a blackout on most government announcements is to come into effect.

Provincial law forbids most government advertising and news conferences within 60 days of the election, although there are exceptions, including matters of public safety and continuations of existing advertising campaigns. The law is aimed at ensuring the party in government does not have the advantage of taxpayer funds in the lead-up to the election.

The government has been running ads on issues including anti-crime measures, tax cuts and child care. Stefanson said the government will not continue to run most ads, although she did not provide specifics.

"No. We won't. We will only be doing things that are informational to Manitobans."

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2023. Top Stories

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