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Free Press love affair with Health Minister blinds newsroom to reality of two-tier medicine

Everyone knows the Manitoba health care system is in shambles, but like gawkers at a car crash, we can't turn away from the latest stories about doctors and hospitals and the most recent government band-aid solution.

Not that it's easy going. Medical stories are written so obtusely that it's like deciphering hieroglyphics.

And the tidbits of information we do manage to glean lead invariably to more disappointment.

On Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press managed, purely inadvertently, to reveal more about the health care system than the government and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority want you to know.

The newspaper ran two stories which, together, tell one tale---a tale of two solitudes, a.k.a. -- the Manitoba health care system.Story number one, by reporter Jen Skerritt, was headlined "Project aims to allow better care for patients".

It was a rewrite of a government news release about a pilot project to spend $2 million on four private clinics--- in Winnipeg, Winkler, Steinbach and Morden-- which will somehow let doctors see more patients and spend more time with patients that need it.We say somehow because only one example was given.

The Assiniboine Clinic in Winnipeg will apparently be hiring a dietician and a nurse practioner to concentrate on people with diabetes and hypertension, supposedly freeing up the doctors to see more patients.

Midway through the story, the reporter casually mentions that in the area of the Assiniboine Clinic, another clinic has already shut down this year and a second will close in the fall, leaving their patients in search of a doctor.

Obviously a story that gushes about the "investment" the Health Minister is making in a government pilot project is not the place to discuss the closing of two clinics and how many people are losing their doctors, and how many other clinics in the city have shut down and why.

What a downer that would be when you're trying to hype the Health Minister.

But Skerritt's scriblings were still an important story, because it describes accurately the health care system you, dear reader, can expect in this province:

* Overworked doctors
* Clinics shutting their doors
* Patients in the lurch, and
* A health minister whistling past the graveyard.

Meanwhile, on another page, the Free Press offered a touching good-news medical story by columnist Gordon Sinclair Junior.

It seems that multi-millionaire Marty Weinberg, the founder of the Assante Corp., had a stomach-ache two years ago. So he phoned up his old childhood pal, Dr. Charles Bernstein, the head of Manitoba's gastroenterology section. And wouldn't you know it, Weinberg gets an appointment just like that, no waiting.

The diagnosis: an intolerance to gluten, an ingredient in breads and pasta.

But hold on, it gets better.

"Sometime after Bernstein diagnosed him, Weinberg travelled to the Mayo Clinic for a head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medical known as the executive check-up."

And while at the Mayo Clinic, he's told the doctors there consider Dr. Bernstein one of the best in his field.


Now, Weinberg is leading a fundraising campaign to create a research chair in gastrointerology at the University of Manitoba with Dr. Bernstein fitted for the job. He's already tapped a few fellow millionaires to top up the $3 million endowment, with a measly $400,000 to go.

Which leaves us with the second half of the tale.

Have you tried phoning a specialist for an appointment?


First you get the sneering receptionist who spells out the facts of life in Manitoba---you, the hoi polloi, can't just phone a specialist for an appointment.

You have to call your family doctor, and he or she has to decide if you really really need to see a specialist.

So you call your doctor -- assuming you have one.

And you're told you can have an appointment-- in a month or two or more.

So you wait. And wait. And wait.

Then, in the bureaucratically mandated ten minutes you have to talk to your doctor, you learn you will be sent for a series of tests. And before leaving, don't forget to make another appointment.

And get used to waiting.

Then when you see the doctor a second time, and depending on how much pressure he's getting from the bureaucrats, you may get a referral, or, more likely, more tests, and more waiting.

And while you're waiting, you can only dream of a head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medical at the Mayo Clinic.

Because you're not getting one.

Which makes us wonder if a millionaire can just phone up and drop down to the Mayo Clinic, or if a doctor friend has to make a call first, and if so, does Medicare pick up the tab ?

It was while pondering these nuances of the two-tier Manitoba health care system that we realized the Winnipeg Free Press had, again inadvertently, revealed more about itself than it wants you to know.

Once upon a time, reporters went to bat for the little guy. The underdog story was what made the news. Little David fighting Goliath.

But now, the Winnipeg Free Press is more likely to report on millionaires and their pet projects than on the little people.

When a group of students from Norquay School begged the Governor General for help in fighting crime and disorder in their neighbourhood, it made the news, with the focus on the Governor General.

The newspaper that sends reporters to Africa and Europe couldn't find a single one to go into the heart of the North End and talk to the students and their teachers and their parents.

A community fighting back against gangs and drugs and prostitution isn't news anymore at the Free Press.

Not when Gordo Sinclair can lead a campaign of millionaires willing to sign a petition to stop development of Upper Fort Garry.

Now that obviously warrants a half dozen stories and columns and op-ed pieces.

The rich and powerful and their "special" connections and their head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medicals at the Mayo Clinic?

Now, that's news.

The poor and their depressing anecdotes about their miserable lives? Puhhhh-leeeeease.

Not in the Free Press.

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