News that Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services is moving to Winnipeg has one mental health worker concerned this is the beginning of the end for the farmer-specific support.
“It’s going to be a farm line in name only,” said Gerry Friesen, a mediation and crisis-resolution specialist who has worked for MFRNSS in the past. “It’s disappointing for me.”
Klinic Community Health is centralizing the service from Brandon to its new Winnipeg headquarters, which are under construction, said Rosemarie Gjerek, Klinic’s director of counselling and community health.
“We are absolutely committed to maintaining the farm line,” Gjerek said. In fact, they hope to expand it to a 24-7 service in the future, up from its current Monday to Friday hours.
The facility will have a much larger “crisis room” and a better phone system. In Brandon, they were facing an antiquated and overloaded phone system, said Gjerek.
Funding has also been “static” for some years, Gjerek said, while overhead costs have risen. Centralizing will maximize their dollars. Klinic is funded by the provincial and federal governments, the Winnipeg Foundation, and others, including private donations.
Gjerek said current farm and rural service manager Janet Smith will continue to maintain a presence in Brandon and will train new farm line operators. The farm line advisory committee will stay in place. She also said there are Winnipeg staff members with farming backgrounds.
But to Friesen, it’s a “no-brainer” that moving to the city will urbanize the service — and in doing so, lose the progress it had been making in the agriculture community.
“It requires a certain touch to be able to deal with farmers,” he said. Friesen added that the helpline is staffed by good people in Brandon, including current farmers, and he is concerned they’ll be lost.
“The elimination of the Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services offices in Brandon certainly poses a challenge to farmers across the province, particularly after one of the toughest harvests in recent memory,” a spokesperson for Keystone Agricultural Producers said in a statement.
“Through organizations like Do More Ag, we are seeing our industry take on a lot of mental health work and supports that should be offered by government and through the provincial health-care system,” the spokesperson said. “Rural patients already drive a great distance to access the care they need, and phone service offers a vital link to supports close to home.”