What Happened to Winnipeg’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit – One Year Later and the Only Person to Benefit was Premier Stefanson

On May 10th, 2021, Manitoba’s Health and Seniors Care Minister pledged $4 million for a “state-of-the-art,” four bed “Enhanced Adult Epilepsy Monitoring Unit” at the Health Science Centre in Winnipeg.

That was one year ago.

Heather Stefanson said, “The expansion of the adult epilepsy monitoring unit at HSC Winnipeg is a pivotal step toward reducing the need for patients to leave their support network behind to receive care outside this province and toward decreasing costs for anti-epileptic medications – costs that can then be reinvested into providing care for Manitobans.”

Stefanson made neurological care sound akin to a warm and fluffy feather duvet. But it was a pilled blanket with holes. When it comes to neurological care, $4 million is a start. But an EMU has operating costs. Those state of the art beds need state of the art trained epilepsy nurses. The EEG nodules that map a patient brain are thousands of dollars.

There’s little doubt the pledge was made to appease an under count of 23,000 Manitobans living with seizures and epilepsy.

Six months after this pledge, Heather Stefanson was upgraded to premier of Manitoba. During the same time, the current adult EMU was graded as still closed.

Since Stefanson’s announcement, two neurosurgeons have left Manitoba. By the end of the year, two epileptologists are fleeing the province, which leaves Manitoba with two overwhelmed epileptologists responsible for hundreds of patients. Recently, the neurology clinic was moved to a smaller clinic at the Health Science Centre. Fitting, because the department is shrinking faster than Shrinky Dinks®.

After a wave of resignations from neurology in 2020, there are approximately 25 neurologists left Manitoba, a province of 1.3 million people. Besides seizures, neurologists diagnose and monitor patients with multiple scoliosis, brain tumours, lupus, fibromyalgia, and other neurological diseases.

Stefanson’s defence could be, “I wasn’t premier at the time,” throwing her predecessor Brian Pallister under the bus. Or “We’re in a pandemic,” or she’ll pass the concern to current Health Minister, Audrey Gordon. While Gordon is the new minister, Stefanson made the pledge.

A functioning adult EMU allows epileptologists to pinpoint the patient’s seizure area. According to Medical News Today, if someone is a surgical candidate, they could have a 70 per cent chance of a seizure free life. Temporal lobe epilepsy has the highest success rate – and it’s the most common type of epilepsy.

While patients eternally hold their breath for an adult EMU, the Manitoba government could focus on part two of their year-old pledge: “decreasing costs for anti-epileptic medications.”

Once a person reaches their Manitoba Pharmacare deductible, generic medication is free. However, deductibles are similar to the Simpsons road trip, “Am I there yet, am I there yet.” Brand name medications have kept people seizure free for years. Those anti-epileptic drugs (AED) are more than a BMW monthly payment, but the government doesn’t understand the value, thinking their 30 per cent kick-in of a brand name medication is a good deed.

There are patients in Manitoba – and across Canada – whose seizures range from hundreds a day to once every six or more years. Thousands of Manitobans are eligible for surgery, saving millions of dollars in medication costs.

But the Manitoba government sees the basic chicken not a versatile egg.

The “current” adult EMU was a two bed unit, rented from the orthopedic ward. It’s a metal clad nightmare with wires, tripping hazards, and untrained nurses for epileptic care – through no fault of their own.

Brainwaves on an adult Epilepsy Monitoring Unit’s screen, March 2016

Unless the Manitoba government restores – and keeps – their pledge, we can bid adieu to the adult EMU by November 2022. Thus, leaving Manitoba as the only province in Canada without an adult EMU.

Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disease in Canada with the second highest associated health care costs. Some patients struggle with seizure control or the price tag, and others struggle, period.

In Manitoba, there’s a cohort who want to end their lives. They feel forgotten and hopeless. They have poor seizure control. They feel like a burden on society. They deserve proper medical care to eradicate or lessen their seizures.

No one should feel like a burden – and no one is a burden.

Sure, there’s a pandemic, and maybe the economy is suffering. Manitobans who need neurological care have heard these excuses for years.

Because regardless of whether the economy is suffering, on May 10, 2021, Health Minister and Seniors Care Minister, Heather Stefanson made a pledge to Manitobans.

And one year later, Premier Stefanson hasn’t said a peep about the EMU.

Proof, real pledge only comes in cans.

Stock photos: Pixabay
Brainwaves: Personal photos


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