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Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew greets Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara at a swearing-in ceremony in Winnipeg, on Oct. 18.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is recruiting dozens of allied health-care workers to help speed up discharge times in hospital emergency departments.

The NDP plans to spend $2.75 million toward hiring more physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and other specialized health-care professionals who are to work with patients on an appropriate and safe discharge.

Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara said addressing discharge rates will have a positive effect on the wider health-care system, as timely patient releases will ensure emergency beds are available.

“This is not the silver bullet to dealing with the challenges we’re facing, but it’s certainly another step that our government is taking to strengthen health care and emergency rooms to make sure that our system is stronger overall,” Asagwara said during a news conference Friday.

Hospitals have been hammered with long wait times and a shortage of health-care professionals, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some patients have reported spending days in emergency care while others have left without being seen.

Some patients needing specialized services are not being discharged on the weekends because the necessary allied health professionals are not staffed to approve a release, leading to overcrowding in emergency rooms and urgent-care centres, the government said.

“What we’re hoping to do is address that ’weekend effect,' as coined by health-care workers on the front lines, and make sure that we are bringing those rates of discharging up to a level that is consistent throughout the week,” said Asagwara.

Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer for Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, said the current health-care system doesn’t reflect the realities of patients’ needs.

“People are presenting seven days a week at all hours. Our discharges should reflect that.”

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents 7,000 allied health professionals, welcomed the news, saying it is long overdue and a good start.

“Manitoba must also expand community supports to make sure patients have a safe place to land after discharge, including more community-based home-care case coordinators and mental-health workers,” president Jason Linklater said in a statement.

Asagwara said many of the allied health-care professionals working in hospitals left their positions for many different reasons, including exhaustion, burnout, poor workplace culture and what they called a lack of support from the previous Progressive Conservative government.

Kathleen Cook, the Opposition Progressive Conservative health critic, criticized the announcement, saying the NDP has yet to say where the staff will come from and when they will be hired.

“Without a plan to train, recruit and retain staff, today’s announcement is just talk. Manitobans expect action,” Cook said in a statement.

Asagwara said the current government will find creative ways to encourage workers to come, but did not elaborate.

New hires are to work at hospitals in Winnipeg, and health centres in Selkirk and Brandon.

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