06/22/2017 11:12 EDT | Updated 06/22/2017 11:41 EDT

Misericordia Sisters asks Manitoba health minister to change his mind

WINNIPEG — A religious order that founded a Winnipeg hospital more than a century ago is asking Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen to back off plans to scale back the facility.

The Misericordia Sisters says the province's plan to close the urgent care centre at the Misericordia Health Centre is unconscionable and will hurt many low-income earners.

In a letter, the Catholic group says forcing area residents to travel to another hospital in the city could cost lives.

Other groups, including physicians, have also called on the government to keep the urgent care centre open, but the province is standing firm.

Goertzen has said the government wants to concentrate emergency and urgent care in facilities where more specialists are available.

The change at Misericordia is one of several being planned in the coming years as part of an effort to reduce the number of hospital emergency rooms in Winnipeg to three from six.

"Having patients travel to another site for care, in winter in particular, would be unconscionable," the letter from the Montreal-based Misericordia Sisters states.

"Misericordia's Urgent Care is a beacon of hope in cold weather — central to where the vulnerable live, where they are walking, bus stops they are sleeping in, and even the bridge under which many call home."

Goertzen said the hospital changes should help reduce wait times, which are among the longest in Canada, and are based on a consultant's report by Dr. David Peachey commissioned by the former NDP government.

"The work of the Peachey report ... considered the best way to provide better care more quickly to Manitobans by better concentrating human resources and allowing our health care facilities to specialize in providing certain services," Goertzen said in a written statement Thursday.

The Misericordia Sisters opened a maternity hospital on the site of the current facility in 1900 — one of several across the country dedicated to helping single mothers.

It became a general hospital in 1917 and was changed to include personal care beds, specialist eye surgery, a 24-hour urgent care centre and more in the 1990s.

The province's new plan is to convert the urgent care area into an intravenous therapy centre.