Four years ago, the Pallister government announced it was shutting down the Mature Women's Centre, a one-stop shop at Victoria Hospital that specialized in the health care needs of menopausal women.
At a press conference outside the hospital Wednesday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said her government is open to the idea of reviving the centre.
"We're always looking at programming that may have been available before that has stopped, or new programming," Gordon said after announcing a new social impact bond to promote women's heart health.
The Mature Women’s Centre specialized in treating a range of gynecological issues, including menopause transition and hysterectomy alternatives. It was established in 1994 at Health Sciences Centre, then moved to Victoria in 2006. It offered patients a team approach to care that included doctors and nurses, a pharmacist, dietitian and kinesiologist. In 2017, the Tories announced they were closing the centre.
"We're always discussing all types of programs available to women," Gordon said Wednesday at the event attended by four female cabinet colleagues, including Deputy Premier Rochelle Squires, Status of Women Minister Cathy Cox, and Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard. "Many things are under discussion," Gordon said.
Heather Stefanson, the former health minister who is running to lead the Progressive Conservative party — and has discussed having a hysterectomy earlier this year — said she's willing to consider re-establishing the Mature Women's Centre.
"Women’s health is a top priority as we look to bolster our health care system," Stefanson said in an email. "We know we need a new approach that refines our health-care services to address the many specific needs of Manitobans. We need to address surgical backlogs, provide more timely access to diagnostic tests and look to retaining and recruiting more nurses," Stefanson said.
The centre saved more money each year through its daily programs than the province would save closing it, medical director Dr. Richard Boroditsky said in 2017 when the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced it was closing the centre, saving $160,000 a year.
"We do procedures to save a tremendous amount of money," Boroditsky told the Free Press at the time. The cost difference in 2016 for patients going to the program rather than into an operating room amounted to $568,260, said the doctor who was not available to comment Wednesday. He called the centre's closure "a very unfortunate decision" and "an assault on women’s health."
If the PC government wants to win back the support of women, it needs more than a front bench full of women - it needs to make "reparations" for cutting women's health services, said the NDP status of women critic. Malaya Marcelino cited cuts to lactation and nutrition programs for new moms and the closure of the Mature Women's Centre as examples.
"It would behoove them to do the right thing and start to reverse the damage that they already made for scores of women and their babies over the short time that they've had in office," Marcelino said Wednesday.
"It would behoove them to do the right thing and start to reverse the damage that they already made for scores of women and their babies over the short time that they've had in office." – NDP status of women critic. Malaya Marcelino
The social impact bond is one way to support women's health, said Gordon. The Victoria General Hospital Foundation will invest $600,000 over the next three years in the Reh-Fit Centre to deliver virtual health behavioural mentoring sessions to 400 women who are at risk of heart disease. If targets for reducing participants' blood pressure and increasing their level of physical activity are met, the province pays a maximum $648,000 to the hospital foundation. Gordon said 80 per cent of heart attacks can be prevented by factors such as diet and exercise and nearly six per cent of Manitoba women have heart disease.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province should just spend money on women's health.
The social impact bond is "a job creation and tax avoidance scheme for investment bankers and their lawyers," he said in an email.
"At a time of record low interest rates, it would make more sense for the province to finance it, or better yet, just make a public investment, which would be lower cost," Lamont said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.