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Manitoba premier says some rural hospitals to close, be converted to care homes

Last Updated Dec 14, 2017 at 4:20 pm EDT

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to media at an embargoed press conference before the provincial throne speech at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG – Premier Brian Pallister says some hospitals in rural Manitoba will be closed or converted into personal care homes as part of the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to reform health care.

The province is dealing with an aging population, some rural communities are shrinking, and people who could be in a personal care home are instead in hospital in some cases, Pallister said in a year-end news conference Thursday.

“A lot of beds are being taken — I don’t like hearing seniors referred to as bed-blockers, but that’s the phrase that’s being used out there,” he said.

“So we know part of the solution is (personal care homes), but we also know part of the solution is better care available to people so they can stay in their own home, too.”

The Tories promised in last year’s election campaign to fast-track the construction of 1,200 personal care home beds. They promised in last month’s throne speech to enhance home care services.

The Opposition New Democrats accused Pallister of backing away from his health-care promises.

“Closing rural hospitals isn’t what Manitobans voted for,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a written statement. “We need Pallister to do more than give with one hand by taking with the other.”

Details of the rural hospital changes will be released in the near future, Pallister said. The move follows recent changes in Winnipeg that included the closure or conversion of three hospital emergency departments.

At the same time, Pallister said he remains firmly committed to cutting the provincial sales tax before the next election, slated for October 2020. He also said he will run in that election to seek a second term.

Pallister also said he is open to giving municipalities a share of the money the province will reap from recreational marijuana when it is legalized in July. The federal government wants to charge $1 a gram in excise tax and give 75 cents of that to the provinces.

Pallister said he realizes municipal governments may also need some of the money to deal with increased policing costs and other items.

“We’ll talk to the municipalities … we’ll do the proper analysis on cost estimates at the appropriate time.”

Pallister’s broken arm remains in a sling as he continues to recover from a hiking accident in New Mexico on Nov. 13. His arm was broken in four places, he said, but it appears no surgery will be required.

Pallister is planning to go to his vacation home in Costa Rica next week and return early in the new year. He came under fire a year ago for saying he planned to spend six to eight weeks a year in Costa Rica, and later reduced the number to five weeks a year.

Next week’s trip will be his first to Costa Rica since last January, he added.