Thursday, July 30, 2015

‘Medical NAFTA’ seeks testimonials

Organizers of the inaugural “Medical NAFTA” meeting being held here July 3 are looking for testimonials from local residents who have had to travel far to receive medical services.
Fort Frances Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who has been co-organizing the meeting with International Falls Coun. Cynthia Jacksa, said the purpose of the “Medical NAFTA” is to gather health-care providers, agency officials, elected officials, and other decision-makers from both sides of the border to discuss residents’ need for better cross-border access of medical services and cost reimbursement.

The need to share renal dialysis and obstetrics, available on the Canadian side, and MRIs, available on the U.S. side, has been discussed.
But organizers on both sides feel now is the time to further explore partnerships, Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“We know there’s going to be a lot of roadblocks,” he acknowledged, noting organizers have been alerted of this by Riverside CEO Allan Katz and Riverside chair Michelle Marinaro.
But they also told organizers this shouldn’t stop the sides from meeting and “scratching the surface to see what happens.”
“We might not be able to make this work right away for the exchange of our dialysis for their MRI,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft remarked.
“But we may start to examine other possibilities of shared health-care services across the border.
“We can scratch the surface and see what happens, see what comes up,” he continued.
“We don’t know for sure that it’s going to work as far as dialysis and MRI on a local level, but we can examine other possibilities and maybe open some doors in the future for an exchange of health care across the river between Minnesota and Ontario.”
Part of the July 3 meeting should include testimonials from area residents who have experienced first-hand the difficulties of having to travel sometimes hundreds of kilometres to access medical services, such as MRIs, Coun. Wiedenhoeft said.
He noted that on the U.S. side, for instance, some people have had to travel to Virginia, Mn. three times a week. And some even have moved away from International Falls because it is not available there.
Likewise, on the Canadian side of the border, people who need an MRI have to travel to Winnipeg or Thunder Bay—even though the Falls has an MRI machine.
“It has, on our side, caused significant personal hardship, inconvenience, and additional expense,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted.
“The province is spending more money by sending people away than they would spend if people could access the Falls’ MRI machine,” he added.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said having people provide these testimonials will give the Ministry of Health “a perspective from the north as to how difficult it is for people to go at least two or three hundred miles in the middle of winter and in difficult circumstances—maybe they’re older or maybe they don’t have the capacity to travel.
“There’s a lot of hardships in the north, where maybe they don’t see that in the south,” he remarked.
“The testimonials would add to, on a personal level, the difficulties some people have faced in north when they have to travel for medical services.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft clarified they don’t have to have travelled to get an MRI—it could be for a variety of medical services.
“It’s just that a lot of things aren’t handy in the north, and they could be handy if we shared facilities with Minnesota,” he reasoned.
Those interested in providing a testimonial on July 3 are urged to contact Coun. Wiedenhoeft at 274-3796.
Numerous delegates are being invited to the July 3 meeting, ranging from hospital CEOs, doctors, and municipal politicians to L. Joy Warkentin, chair of the Northwest LHIN.
Health minister Deb Matthews, Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Bill Mauro, local MPP Sarah Campbell, local MP John Rafferty, and Jamshed Merchant, the Canadian Counsel General based in Minneapolis, as well as their U.S. counterparts, also have been invited.
“Medical NAFTA” will take place from 8 a.m.-noon at La Place Rendez-Vous.

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