Home-care cancellations see large year-over-year increases, WRHA says

New data from the province is showing the strain and backlog evident in Manitoba’s health-care system, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is going beyond health-care facilities and is affecting home care as well.

This April, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) cancelled nearly 27,000 appointments. That’s 166 per cent more than over the same month in 2021.

That same month, recorded home-care cancellations by the WRHA were more than 10,000 higher than the numbers from April of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic.

The WRHA says its home-care program continues to experience staffing shortages, but cancellations related to heavy winter storms across the province also contributed to those numbers.

Read more: Surgical, diagnostic backlog continues to grow, Doctors Manitoba says

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“We have had increased cancelations for a variety of reasons and factors,” WRHA community health services director Pat Younger told Global News.

“We’ve had a significant number of storms in the month of April. So that’s resulted in a lot of delays and cancelations. We do have a severe weather response plan in place, but it makes it very difficult for staff to drive through all the snow and the blizzards, and that creates some capacity issues and some cancelations.

“So we really did see a sharp rise in the cancellations during the month of April, and that was related to debris and the blizzard.”

Younger said in addition to staff shortages, including those caused by illness or retirement and inclement weather, a third area is cancellations driven by home-care clients.

“That could be for a number of reasons — they may (cancel) for (other) appointments… and also during (the pandemic).

“We did hear that many of our clients didn’t want that same level of home care in the home and wanted to reduce their contacts just because of COVID that was around.

“So that tends to be a lot of the factors for the cancelations in home care over the last several years.”

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Cliff Stornel says his mother, Sheila, receives home-care, and although he’s happy with much of the service she’s received — describing most of the workers as “amazing” — he told Global News unexpected cancellations and delays can be frustrating.

“We got a call on Friday afternoon… we were told flat out there’d be no one coming for Sunday morning or Sunday at lunch, which meant her commode went 24 hours without being changed,” he said.

“They just say there’s no one available. And if you ask any questions or you push about it, it’s a person on the phone who really is just calling to tell you they don’t know.”

Stornel said there have also been times when home-care is expected, but no one shows up, causing a lot of strain on family trying to help with care, and especially on the person in need of care themselves.

“It’s hard on her, right? (In the morning) she gets up, but she doesn’t know if someone’s going to show up to help her get out of bed in the morning or if she’s going to have to struggle and do it herself.

“If someone does show up, half the time, it’s when she’s already done it herself, because they don’t call to tell you when they’re showing up.”

Stornel said he’d like to see more staffing, especially as it’s unclear for patients and family to know who to contact when there are issues.

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“I understand it can’t be an easy job, and I get that… but there needs to be something for these people, because they’re  falling through the cracks.

“They’re not bad enough to move into (a care facility), but they’re not good enough to be on their own. So we kind of make do with what it is.”

Read more: Ontario plans to invest additional $1B over 3 years in home care

The WRHA’s numbers come at a time when Doctors Manitoba says pandemic-driven surgical wait times have peaked.

In a release on Tuesday, the organization said the backlog is very slowly beginning to decrease, dropping to almost 2,300 below last month’s estimate.

“As a family physician, I care for patients each and every day who are stuck in the backlog and waiting for a diagnostic test or surgery,” said Dr. Candace Bradshaw, Doctors Manitoba president.

“These patients are waiting in pain and at this point, there’s not a lot I can tell them to address the uncertainty they face about their wait time.”

Doctors Manitoba is calling on the province to lift caps and limits and increase the volume of cataract surgeries, allergy testing, mammograms, and complex lung function and respiratory tests, in hope of further normalizing things, as well as recruiting and retaining more nurses and technologists.

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