Role of the Region

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, May / June 2010

Arlene Wilgosh

What is the role of the Winnipeg Health Region?

It's a good question, one that I used to think about quite a bit in my previous life as deputy minister of health for the province of Manitoba. And it's one I'll likely be thinking about a lot more in my new role as President & CEO of the Winnipeg Health Region.

The primary goal of any health region, of course, is to ensure the delivery of the very best care as efficiently as possible. Increasingly, though, that role is being redefined and expanded.

While the provision of quality health-care services will always be "Job One" for us, we also want to do more to help people reduce their risk of getting sick in the first place. I'd like to use this column, my first for Wave since assuming my new position in March, to explain why.

Health-care spending has escalated dramatically over the years. The Winnipeg Health Region, for example, spent about $2.1 billion in the 2009/10 fiscal year, up from $1.2 billion in 2001/02. Much of this increase is due to the rising demand for health-care services from an aging and ailing population.

A recent study released by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy outlines the scope of the problem - and the importance of addressing it. The study suggests that as many as half of Manitobans over the age of 19 are living with chronic disease, such as diabetes, cardiac disease, hypertension, stroke or cancer.

Needless to say, this is not good news for our community or the health-care system that is responsible for caring for those in need.

The research paper suggests that chronic disease costs about 42 per cent of the total amount a province spends on health care. In Manitoba's case, that works out to about $1.6 billion a year. That money is spent on everything from doctors' visits and hospital stays, to drugs and home care. As the centre's paper notes, other studies have found that as much as 60 per cent of health-care spending can be attributed to chronic disease, while up to 40 per cent of chronic disease is preventable.

We here at the Region understand the importance of delivering top-notch care. But we also recognize the need to create a healthier community, and the positive impact that can have on the financial viability of our health-care system.

Every day, people come to work at hospitals, clinics, community offices and other facilities throughout the Winnipeg Health Region looking for ways not just to deliver care, but to improve people's health. Their passion, caring nature, professionalism, and commitment to addressing the issues at hand are truly impressive and inspiring.

A story about chronic kidney disease in the last issue of Wave offers just one example of how health-care providers are working to make things better. It noted that Manitoba has among the highest rates of chronic kidney disease in Canada, with more than 275 people starting dialysis every year just to stay alive. Our job as a health region is to support the delivery of dialysis to patients through the Manitoba Renal Program. But our role doesn't end there.

As Dr. Mauro Verrelli, Medical Director of the Manitoba Renal Program, pointed out in the article, despite the growing demand on our health-care dollars for increased acutecare services, we also need to direct some of these important resources to look at ways to reduce the number of people who need dialysis in the first place.

That involves raising awareness about chronic kidney disease, making better use of screening tests, providing better education and support for family doctors, and doing more to identify people at risk, especially those living in remote Aboriginal communities in northern Manitoba.

By doing some or all of these things, we can enhance the level of care we deliver to those in need and help them better manage their condition. We can also help individuals take more control over their own health, allowing them to make choices that will reduce their risk of developing more serious illness.

There is more that needs to be done, of course, but we cannot do it alone. We need partners. And that means we need you.

Many health experts argue that the burden of chronic disease - on our community and on our health-care system - could be reduced if individuals took better care of themselves. That's not to say that we can all avoid illness by eating a lot of vegetables and visiting the gym every day. Genetics can and do play a role in whether we develop disease, and even the fittest and seemingly healthiest among us can suddenly fall ill. But it is to say that we can reduce our risk of developing diabetes, cardiac illness, hypertension and other chronic ills by making a few lifestyle changes.

Numerous studies have shown that our diets are not as healthy as they could be. Collectively, we need to understand the importance of a balanced diet, and we also have to recognize the value of ensuring people have access to nutritious food.

Obesity is also a problem. We need to become more active. It's well known that exercise is the best pill we have for maintaining good health. Studies suggest that walking as little as an hour a day, three times a week can have a positive impact on our health.

The Region has long supported initiatives that promote healthy living, ranging from programs to help individuals quit smoking to efforts to fight poverty. In this issue of Wave, for example, you can read about efforts to improve the dental health of children, which can be an important factor in their overall health and well-being.

You will also find advice on how to help your child develop a healthy appetite for nutritious food, a story on the link between celiac disease and osteoporosis, and an article on a program that helps provide spiritual care to Aboriginal patients.

Earlier this year, Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau signalled the provincial government's intention to step up efforts to promote healthy living. That's a good thing.

Here at the Region, we will continue working to provide the very best care possible. We will also continue to work toward creating a healthier community. I hope each and every one of you will join us.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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