POLITICS

Wheels on Manitoba's health-care bus have yet to go round and round

06/21/2012 05:09 EDT | Updated 08/21/2012 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is facing more delays in fulfilling a promise to have a health-care bus visit remote communities.

The government announced in 2010 that it would have a bus on the road the following year to bring basic diagnostic services and advice to outlying areas. The idea is to make it easier for people to access blood-sugar tests, X-rays, and other services without having to travel to a city or larger town.

The province soon ran into logistical problems, however, such as finding the right way to put X-ray machines and other equipment into a limited, mobile space.

By the end of last year, Health Minister Theresa Oswald had pushed the deadline back to the first half of this year.

Now, a top Health department official says the new target date is sometime in 2013.

Barbara Wasilewski, executive director of primary care, says extensive design consultations are ongoing to ensure the bus will be safe for patients.

"For example, the door has been moved to accommodate wheelchair access and to reduce chilling of the waiting area," Wasilewski said in a written statement.

Special shielding is needed to protect people from X-rays on the bus, she added, and additional power sources are needed to run all the equipment.

There will also be some sort of warning system to alert staff in the event power is lost while the vehicle is parked and staff are elsewhere.

"This is critical when staff are staying overnight in a community, as equipment and substances require a narrow temperature range to avoid damage," Wasilewski wrote.

Other provinces have already put such buses on the road, but Manitoba's will be bigger and be equipped to provide more services.

The delay appears to have developed recently. Provincial budgets documents tabled in the legislature in May said there would be "operationalization of ... two primary care health buses" this fiscal year, which ends next March.

It's not clear how much the buses will cost. Funding for the project is part of $6.5 million being set aside for health-care innovations this year. The amount also covers five quick-care clinics being established to ease congestion in hospital emergency rooms, and several other projects.